Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Tuesday unveiled a plan to end veterans' homelessness in five years, saying that without action the improvements of recent years could be lost because of the bad economy.
Shinseki said the VA will spend $3.2 billion next year to reduce homelessness among veterans and is working to strengthen partnerships with other government agencies and service organizations. He said he recognizes that a goal of zero homeless veterans is ambitious but that he wants a high target so that everyone puts in their best efforts.
"My name is Shinseki and I'm here to end veteran homelessness," he said at the beginning of a speech to 1,200 service providers at a VA summit.
In the past, the VA focused largely on getting homeless veterans off the streets, but Shinseki said he wants to prevent them from ever going homeless. One area for potential improvement, he said, is finding jobs and homes for the estimated 56,000 veterans who leave prisons each year.
About one-third of all adult homeless men and nearly one-fifth of all homeless adults served in the military.
About 3 percent of the overall homeless population served in Iraq or Afghanistan. About 3,700 from the recent wars have been seen in VA homeless outreach programs and more than 550 have been treated in a VA-connected residential program.
It is estimated that 130,000 veterans are homeless on a typical night in the U.S. Shinseki said that is down from 195,000 six years ago. But, because of the poor economy, he said up to 15 percent more veterans could be on the streets in five years.
"That's not going to happen. We're going to go the other way," Shinseki said. "You all didn't work for the past six years to see things reversed."
Shinseki added: "Even in tough economic times this is still the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world and no veteran should be living on the streets without care and without hope."