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Counting the homeless to change their fortunes

LOS ANGELES -- The volunteers counting the homeless in Los Angeles walked on streets most would usually avoid, among people who are often treated as invisible. We tagged along with them Thursday night during their count.

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Robert Malone, formerly homeless, volunteers to count the homeless in Los Angeles
CBS News

Robert Malone volunteered to count because just months ago he was homeless. And like nearly one in ten of the homeless across the country, he's a veteran.

Malone lived out of a car but is now in an apartment thanks to a Veterans Administration program providing vouchers for housing.

In 2006 an estimated 195,000 veterans were homeless. Counts like the one we went on Thursday night show a significant drop: more than 74,000 in 2009 to fewer than 50,000 last year.

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CBS News

That's happened as the VA has aggressively expanded programs to identify and support homeless vets. Last night even the VA's new secretary, Robert McDonald was out counting and talking to the homeless.

Now it's McDonald's job to meet the goal set by President Obama to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year.

"You know what my worst nightmare is?" McDonald said. "I open up one of those tents and I find somebody I served with. That would break my heart because those guys looked out for me and I need to look out for them and that's why I'm here."

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VA Secretary Robert McDonald partakes in a count of the homeless on the streets of Los Angeles
CBS News

Veterans who are among those living here on LA's skid row could be moving to a more stylish part of the city. The Veterans Administration has announced plan to move veterans into housing it owns in a fashionable neighborhood just west of Beverly Hills.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.