- Number of homeless veterans declines nationwide, rises at MCSA
WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — A vigorous effort to house the homeless has driven the count of homeless veterans down in many communities across the nation, but not Muscatine.
“This summer we had four or five, but now we’re up to nine,” said Maggie Curry, executive director of the Muscatine Center for Social Action.
The federal government and local communities have greatly increased the number of beds available to the homeless over the last four years, either through emergency shelters or through government-subsidized apartments and houses.
But the struggling economy contributed to the number of homeless people in the United States remaining stable between January 2011 and January 2012.
The biggest drop occurred with veterans while homelessness within families increased slightly, according to the latest national estimates.
Each January, thousands of workers with local governments and nonprofit agencies fan out across the country to count the number of homeless people living in shelters and on the streets during a specific 24-hour period. The latest count estimates the number of homeless at 633,782, according to the Housing and Urban Development Department. The year before, the number stood at slightly more than 636,000.
Within those numbers was a more encouraging trend: The percentage of homeless veterans as well as those homeless for more than a year each dropped by about
Agencies are focusing their dollars on getting the long-term homeless into permanent housing and then providing them with support services such as counseling and job training.
Curry said circumstances vary for each veteran staying at MCSA. Six of the nine are long-term residents of Muscatine’s homeless shelter, she said.
MCSA works closely with county-provided veterans service officer Sara Creamer, Curry said.
Creamer and her counterpart in Louisa County, Andy Beaver, could not be reached in time for this story.
“We work together to see how we can get people the right resources, what they need to move on and become self-sufficient,” said Curry. “That partnership and networking is really important. If we only had more mental health services, people would understand what their issues are and feel better about themselves. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
On Thursday, the nine veterans comprised about 17 percent of MCSA’s 52 residents.
The Obama administration has set of goal of eliminating veterans’ homelessness and chronic homelessness by the end of 2015.
“This report continues a trend that clearly indicates we are on the right track in the fight to end homelessness among veterans,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Advocates welcomed the numbers, but said they showed there’s still a long way to go to meet the administration’s goal.
“It’s great that we made progress ... but we’re obviously not going to end it by 2015 at this pace,” said Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Mark Johnston, an acting assistant secretary at Housing and Urban Development, said the stable homeless rate during tough economic times was viewed as encouraging news.
Johnston said the federal government is spending about $1.9 billion to house the homeless. The amount has steadily increased over the years, with a particular boost coming from the 2009 economic stimulus package.
That investment would probably need to grow to about $20 billion to provide housing for all of the homeless during a one-year period, Johnston said. Officials know that’s unlikely, so the focus is on targeting the money where it’s having the greatest effect.
They said more money is being directed to subsidize the cost of permanent housing. HUD provides that money while Veterans Affairs steps in with other services, such as drug and alcohol counseling and job training.
Roman said the investment helps cut government costs elsewhere.
“People who don’t have stable housing create all kinds of other costs. Their health problems are worse. It’s pretty much impossible to keep a job, and it has all kinds of snowballing effects,” Roman said. “So these are smart public investments, and we need to keep going to reach these goals.”
Officials said most homeless people only need shelter for a few days or weeks. They tend to rely on the more than 400,000 beds provided through emergency shelters and transitional housing.
More than half of the homeless people who used such temporary help are part of families using those services. The homelessness among people in families increased by 1.4 percent in the latest count.