Nearly a Third Fewer Veterans Homeless: Smart Spending Works

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently reported a slight decline in the number of homeless people nationwide — 2.3% fewer than in 2013.

One can quarrel with the figure. And four major advocacy organizations have, arguing, among other things, that the definition of “homeless” that communities must use for their counts excludes a very large number of people, including youth and families with children.

More reliable, I think, are figures showing a marked drop in the number of homeless veterans — 10.5% fewer than in 2013 and 32.6% than in 2009. No other group the one-night counts break out experienced anything close.

Even in the District of Columbia, where the total number of homeless people increased by nearly 13% — and the number of homeless families by more than 25% — the number of homeless veterans ticked down. And it had plummeted by 42% since 2009.

Two cities claim they’ve ended chronic homelessness for veterans. And recent figures reportedly indicate that the District is about a third of the way toward ending it for all veterans by the end of 2015 — the goal Mayor Gray and at least 224 of his counterparts adopted from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

USICH made ending veteran homelessness a first order of business for the federal agencies it includes — and by extension, state and local governments, nonprofits and others in the private sector.

And what the results tell us, I think, is that sometimes throwing money at a problem goes a long way toward solving it.

HUD has used dedicated funding to provide about 68,000* housing vouchers to local public housing agencies since 2008. Congress has appropriated $75 million for these vouchers every year, but one since Fiscal Year 2009 — and apparently is set to do so again.

The PHAs must have a local healthcare center nearby to provide case management and other services. These are funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

No separate line item in the budget for these, but the account VA draws on is said to be “generally robustly funded.” And indeed, the Secretary recently invited nonprofits to apply for a total of $93 million in grants.

So the jointly-funded program represents a quite large federal investment in permanent housing, with supportive services for homeless veterans — mostly those qualifying as chronically homeless.

HUD attributes the marked decline in veteran homelessness mainly to this program. And it seems reasonable to believe that the long-term decline in chronic homelessness is related — 30% fewer individuals since 2007.

Yet USICH had to push back its goal for ending chronic homelessness because, says its executive director, “[W]e haven’t been willing to invest $300 million to create the affordable housing that’s needed.” She’s apparently referring to Congress — certainly not to USICH.

She’s hopeful that progress on veteran homelessness will show that “when we put appropriations behind … [the right solution] we can drive change.”

“We do think we can get to the point of saying there are no more homeless veterans in the country,” she tells a real estate news reporter. And that will show we can achieve the same for other populations as well, “if we set our mind to it.”

Kurt Runge, Director of Advocacy at Miriam’s Kitchen, says something similar about the campaign to move veterans in the District off the streets and into permanent supportive housing. “Not only can we end chronic veteran homelessness, but we can end all homelessness.”

That doesn’t mean we will, however — or even seriously try to. Veterans have a privileged place in our policymaking and budget choices.

So, as Bryce Covert at Think Progress, astutely says, “[T]he danger is that while some groups have bipartisan support and will meet their goals, progress will end there.” The head of the National Coalition for the Homeless, whom she quotes, thinks “some folks” will consider the job done when the veterans goal is met.

All of which makes the cheering figures on homeless veterans — and the well-financed, energetic support for housing the rest — somewhat bittersweet news.

* This is the figure on the HUD-VASH page of HUD’s website. The agency’s press release for its homelessness report says “more than 59,000.”





34 Responses to Nearly a Third Fewer Veterans Homeless: Smart Spending Works

  1. Jessica says:

    Thanks for this post. We as a nation need to house all homeless people. We particularly owe our veterans, but just like PTSD can cause difficulties that lead to homelessness, non-veterans end up homeless for so many reasons beyond their control as well. Even “bad choices” don’t deserve freezing and starving on the streets, and brain imaging studies show deficiencies that play a major role in those choices we, on the outside, might judge. As social creatures, we should take care of each other, but even if we are concerned about our own wallets, it actually costs less as a nation to help keep people housed than to leave them in harm’s way.

  2. atang7 says:


    We are striving to reduce homelessness for our veterans. Many people try to help find roofs over their heads. But what about the future veterans? Not all changes will be made, plus money supply is low. There will no doubt be more homeless people in the future.

  3. atang7 says:

    atang7 1102@ Jessica:
    Based on this article I agree that it would cost a lot less if we just keep people housed. But does everyone who KEEP making bad choices deserve to have a roof over their heads?

  4. Kathryn Baer says:

    Set aside the question of what those bad choices are and who decides they’re bad. Do we help people because, in our view, they deserve it and let the undeserving fend for themselves?

  5. Gabrielle Parris 1120 says:

    Both authors from each articles agree on the fact that providing housing from the homeless would be beneficial for everyone. I agree that it would be cheaper to house people and help them get homes of their own. It doesn’t make sense that we have the funds to help people, but instead we choose to sit back and do nothing.

  6. Gabrielle Parris 1102 says:

    Gabrielle Parris 1102@ atang7 1102: Sometimes the people who are making “bad decisions” do not know the decisions they are making are harming them. For example, people who are suffering from PTSD or drug abuse might not be aware of the things they’re doing. However, even if some people do not suffer from these things doesn’t mean they should be left to fend on their own. Everybody deserves a chance to live comfortably.

  7. Kathryn Baer says:

    We also know that providing safe, stable housing for people who suffer from substance abuse and/or mental health problems increases the likelihood that they will accept services to address these problems and that the services will achieve better results than if the people were left on the streets or in shelters.

    Still, I agree with your further point, Gabrielle. We shouldn’t restrict our housing programs to homeless people who suffer from any specific condition(s).

  8. Brooke Sax says:

    In the NY Times article I noticed that they are trying to end homelessness by starting a nation campaign. Both articles agree on participating in housing vouchers in order to give homeless veterans a place to stay. Honestly I see similarities throughout the entire articles because both plan to end the issue with shelter type projects.

  9. Brooke Sax says:

    @Gabrielle Parris : Although they stated buying houses for individuals would be cheaper I totally disagree with the statement and yours also. It’s always easier and cheaper to house a group together rather than buying individually.

  10. lwilliams156 says:


    Both of the authors of each article agree that the homelessness population of veterans is a problem. They also discuss ways of solving this problem, such as providing shelters for the veterans to get them off of the street. It’s clear that both authors want the homelessness of veterans to come to an end completely, however I don’t think it could stop permanently. Indeed with more funds, donations, the government and other organizations working together, they could build homes and places for veterans to live. However, there won’t always be enough room for every person to stay. If one thinks about it, if it was that simple, ordinary homeless people wouldn’t be on the streets today. It was already stated in both articles, that veterans take up a huge part of the homeless population. There needs to be more than one or two places in each city that could provide shelter, food and rehabilitation for veterans if people want to see true declination.

  11. lwilliams156 says:

    In response to Jessica

    I agree with you one hundred percent in regards to it taking a nation to making a change and keeping people from out of harm’s way. However, we also have to think about the priorities of this nation. Sadly, this nation spend so much money on creating more jails, or promoting different things in the media involving celebrities’ lives, and end up closing educational institutions, or programs that could help educate children and keep them off of the streets. Yes, it do take a nation to make a change. Although, I believe this nation needs to reevaluate their priorities first.

  12. atang7 says:

    I do think that veterans deserve help. However, some people may accept services to address their mental/health problems, and others will not. Some people just have trouble trusting outreach workers.

  13. Lon Ben says:

    I’m happy that so many people care for the homeless. On the streets you rarely see anyone stop and consider. But seeing how much a homeless person costs taxpayers it would make someone reconsider volunteering.

  14. Kayla Carr 1102 says:

    It is incredible how smart spending can lower the amount of homeless people by 2.3%. It is very important to spend the money it takes to get these people,off of the streets because like an article from NY times said, a chronically homeless person cost 40,000 for the average taxpayer. This is why it is crucial that we get them off the streets and into a home.

  15. Kayla Carr 1102 says:

    Some people may not accept the help that they need but that does not mean we should stop trying. Often time people give up on others too soon, which is why a lot of veterans are left uncared for. However , thankfully organizations such as the 100,000 Homes campaign exist so that the homeless are not forgotten.

  16. Kayla Carr 1102 says:

    ( in response to atang7)

  17. Kathryn Baer says:

    Where we see the results of smart spending is in funding targeted to certain groups of homeless people. Notice the large drop in the percent of homeless veterans.

  18. Alexander M. 1102 says:

    I find it amazing how the organization is providing shelter for the men and women who served our countries, but I feel like they are missing out on a lot of great opportunities to better them. I believe that while a place to call home is a beneficial thing, I think that providing them with guidance, counseling, someone to lean on is something more worth while. Instead of continuously looking at the quantity of homeless helped, maybe look more at the quality of the homeless helped. Just a thought.

  19. Alexander M. 1102 says:

    I believe that everyone deserves that second, third, fourth chance. It’s part of our human nature to make bad decisions, so that only means it’s going to take twice the effort from the person making the mistake and the person helping them to fight back against our human nature. Because there’s always failures in life, and those people who keep making the bad decisions do not only deserve a second chance but deserve an even bigger heart to give them guidance.

  20. Sharae Ross 1102 says:

    I found this article enlightening because i didn’t know so many of ours veterans were homeless. It’s good to here places like Detroit and San Diego are helping the issue by putting homeless veterans into apartments(NYTimes). Also, its good to hear that there was a decline in the homeless population.

  21. Sharae Ross 1102 says:

    (In Response to Kayla Carr)

    I agree that people give up to soon, which is the reason why the veteran problem is still an issue. I feel like people think some veterans are too difficult to deal with cause of their health conditions but patience is key.

  22. Trei Chamberlain says:

    The veterans that are homeless should be helped out in a way that would fund them for life in return of the duty that they have done in the past. Their should be a small portion of the taxes that we pay that should go towards the funding of life support for veterans.

  23. TJohnson 1102 says:

    With smart spending, there is smart strategizing. Both of these factors play an equally effective role in the decreasing amount of veteran homelessness. After reading the NY Times article, I don’t believe that the progress will end after the goal is met though. These agency and groups are going above the goal they have set and are constantly finding new strategies to get more homeless veterans into houses faster.

  24. TJohnson 1102 says:

    In Reply to Lon Ben:

    Reconsider in what way? I believe that cost of a homeless person for a taxpayer should not be a moral dictation of whether or not a person should help out ones in need. I would like clarity on your statement to gain a better understanding of your viewpoint.

  25. Koya says:

    Koya 1102

    What do the authors agree on? Where do you see similarities in the articles?

    The articles authors both agree that homeless veterans is a problem. The authors think of ways to prevent the problem and discuss the number of homeless vets in each state. Both authors wants the number of homeless vets to decrease however I believe they miss key parts of recovery due to the fact that the programs are so focused on housing the vets. Yes a home is a hood thing to have but they need a more centered system that provides all aspects of recovery. i.e counseling, medical care, evaluations.

  26. Aahsihia Reed says:

    Siah Reed 1102-

    I can really appreciate that both authors agree on the housing for the needy and homeless. It’s good to know that Atlanta has improved on their housing vouchers by 67 percent which was gathered from the New York Times article. I feel like we all are meant to make mistakes so we are able to learn and grow from them. We all deserve second chances because that is probably all we need to get back on our feet. Our society should stop being selfish and start helping others succeed as well. It’s almost like we don’t want one another to succeed in life. Too scared someone will out grow us and do better. If we spend more time helping one another, then I can guarantee that the homeless population will decrease drastically.

  27. Koya says:

    In reply to La’Shaee Wlliams

    I agree with your first two statements about how there needs to be more funds that are allotted to fund the programs however I believe that if there were to be more houses and places dedicated to hosing the veterans then the purpose would be lost. A lot of something does not mean the process will move faster or work more efficiently.

  28. Aahsihia Reed says:


    I totally agree with you and it also caught my by surprise that by me spending wisely, I am helping out those who are less fortunate. I also agree with you that it is up to the person to actually want the help first because you can’t really help someone if they don’t think they need it.

  29. Kathryn Baer says:

    Koya, permanent supportive housing is called that because housing is accompanied by supportive services, including those you name.

  30. Julie says:

    What they are doing for the people who help our country is great. It is such a good change to see action being taken in the form of funding these groups to get these people into houses. But it would also serve a good purpose in the future to see programs for their mental health too, as in helping them with any disorders or anything to help them feel safe in the future.

    Julie 1102

  31. Julie says:

    In response to Siah Reed

    I also felt that it was nice to see a common thread when in came to both authors agreeing that action needed to be taken to put these people into homes. I think this is exactly the kind of attitude people should take towards the homeless, one of compassion and empathy. We all do make mistakes so it’s important to help those in need and be proactive about the problem because, as the first author said, it would be more cheap and better overall to put these people in housing rather than pay for them in jail or something like that.

    1102 Julie

  32. […] So we’ve got a clear downward trend, as we don’t for any other subgroup the report breaks out — except, more recently, veterans, who often have disabilities and so get counted as chronically homeless. Shows again what money can do. […]

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