Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is facing harsh backlash after the agency announced it was putting an end to a $460 million program that has dramatically reduced homelessness among chronically sick and vulnerable veterans.
Veteran advocates, state officials and even officials from HUD, which co-sponsors the program, slammed the move after hearing from Shulkin’s Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans, according to a report from Politico.
“I don’t understand why you are pulling the rug out,” said Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities, accusing the VA of “putting at risk the lives of men and women who’ve served this country.”
“The VA is taking its foot off the pedal,” commented Leon Winston, an executive at Swords to Plowshares, which helps homeless vets in San Francisco. He told Politico that the VA decision is already having an impact after HUD recently put out 100 housing vouchers for veterans in the program, and then the local VA hospital said it could only provide support for 50.
HUD released its annual survey on Wednesday, showing a 1.5 percent increase in veteran homelessness over 2016. Driven by a surge in homelessness currently taking place on American’s West Coast, these numbers reflect that the homeless population has increased for the first time since 2010. Most of the jump occurred in Los Angeles, where housing costs are skyrocketing.
Veterans affairs subcommittee member Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) called the VA decision a “new low” for the Trump administration that was “especially callous and perplexing” in view of the latest data on homelessness.
Shulkin made a statement late Wednesday insisting that overall funding for veteran homelessness was not being cut and promised to get input from local VA leaders and others “on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most.”
There were nearly 40,000 homeless veterans in 2016, according to the HUD data, and even those with housing still need help. The program has reduced the number of displaced service members, serving 138,000 since 2010, cutting the number without housing on a given day by almost half. More than half the veterans housed are chronically ill, mentally ill or have substance abuse problems, according to Politico.
“The people in this program are the most vulnerable individuals,” noted Matt Leslie, who runs the housing program for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. “If someone’s going to die on the streets, they are the ones.”
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