VA redoubles effort to combat homelessness

Tuesday - 7/17/2012, 4:22pm EDT

Mark Johnston, acting assistant secretary, Office of Community Planning and Development, HUD

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By Esther Carey
Special to Federal News Radio

The Department of Veterans Affairs is boosting its efforts to end veteran homelessness. The VA today announced nearly $100 million more in grants to continue the fight as part of the goal to end this problem by 2015.

VA awarded the grants to 151 community agencies in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Estimates indicate this round of assistance will help 42,000 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families, said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Secretary in a press release.

"We are committed to ending veteran homelessness in America," Shinseki said. "These grants will help VA and community organizations reach out and prevent at-risk veterans from losing their homes."

Grants cover a variety of funding

The grants provide funding to private nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives, which offer a wide range of assistance to veteran families. Examples range from receiving temporary funds for housing-related expenses to obtaining help in applying for VA benefits.

The funding is part of the VA's Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Grantees can use the money for providing a variety of services to eligible veteran families, including health care, legal assistance, personal financial planning or child care.

During last year's introduction of the program, VA provided $60 million in grants which helped 22,000 veterans and family members. Due in part to this investment, the 2011 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report found that the number of homeless veterans decreased by 12 percent during 2010.

VA, HUD work toward goal

Mark Johnston

The VA is not the only agency combating veteran homelessness. A close ally of the VA is the Housing and Urban Development Department. The two agencies identified the need and are working toward their goal, said Mark Johnston, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development at HUD, during an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

The Partnership for Public Service picked Johnston, his VA colleague Susan Angell and their Homeless Veterans Initiative Team as finalists for the Service to America Medal for their work in reducing veteran homelessness.

By collaborating, HUD and VA can better research the size of the problem and then target their resources at communities with the greatest need, Johnston said. Together, the agencies run the HUD-VA Supportive Housing program.

Not all cases are the same, Johnston pointed out. Some veterans are dealing with mental or physical issues in addition to facing homelessness. Those people need additional assistance. Thus, the VA and HUD are focused on crafting their intervention to meet the specific needs in each case.

Esther Carey is an intern at Federal News Radio.


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Getting a call on a Sunday afternoon and learning I would no longer be a senior manager but would be reassigned with no particular responsibilities. Rather than moping around, I volunteered to take on a variety of assignments which eventually earned the respect of senior management. While I was offered a great position in another agency, I turned it down, wanting to prove to myself that I could tough it out and excel where I was. It took me 10 years to climb back into the position I had once held, but I learned a lot of important lessons along the way, including persistence.

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