Politics & Government

VA expands grants to tackle veteran homelessness

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday it would award nearly $100 million in grants to groups that help homeless veterans as well as those at risk of becoming homeless.

The grants will serve 151 community agencies in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and are expected to target 42,000 homeless and at-risk vets and their families. The grants represent a major increase from the number of anti-homelessness grants awarded last year.

“We are committed to ending veteran homelessness in America,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a press release. He said the grants should help the VA and community organizations prevent at-risk veterans from losing their homes.

The grants announced Tuesday are part of a VA initiative that partners with private non-profits and consumer groups to provide services for veterans and their families in – or transitioning to – permanent housing.

The program is a new approach to ending homelessness among veterans. It focuses on prevention, quickly securing housing and keeping families together, according to VA spokesman Josh Taylor.

Last year, $60 million in such grants went to 85 non-profit community agencies in 40 states and the District of Columbia; the money helped about 22,000 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families, according to the VA.

With the grants, providers can increase outreach and case management and assist homeless veterans in obtaining VA and public benefits. They also can help veterans with rent and utilities, as well as security and moving fees.

The VA wants to end veteran homelessness by 2015, a goal Shinseki and President Barack Obama announced in 2009.

One out of every six people in a U.S. homeless shelter is a veteran, and veterans are 50 percent more likely to fall into homelessness than other Americans, according to the VA.

In January 2011, the VA estimated that on a single night there were 67,495 homeless veterans nationwide. That number is a 12 percent decline from January 2010, according to a 2011 annual homeless assessment report.

Prior to 2009, VA services were outdated and disorganized, and they didn’t sufficiently address prevention and intervention, according to experts on homelessness. The VA’s latest efforts are designed to expand such functions.

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Other recent VA initiatives include a short-term rental and landlord assistance program, a 24/7 call center and a Jon Bon Jovi-inspired mobile app developer contest.

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