NBC News recently visited U.S.VETS – Phoenix to talk to Executive Director John Scott and some U.S.VETS clients to discuss what needs to be done to treat veteran homelessness.
The story below originally appeared on nbcnews.com on March 29, 2013.
Can Washington get vets off the streets? Tens of thousands homeless despite billions in spending
By Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor
Despite funding that has reached $5.8 billion annually and a slew of innovative community partnerships, the Obama administration is lagging in its goal to end homelessness among veterans – or, as federal veterans’ leaders like to say, “drive to zero” – by the end of 2015.
If the current rate of progress is maintained, roughly 45,000 veterans would still be without homes when the deadline passes — a big improvement since the drive was launched but also evidence of how difficult it is to eradicate the problem.
“I don’t truly think you can end homelessness,” said John Scott, who heads the Phoenix office of U.S. Vets, a national, nonprofit service provider to homeless and at-risk veterans that receives some federal funding. “Things happen that can precipitate homelessness for anyone, and it can happen quite rapidly. However, we can effect change in veterans who have been chronically homeless.”
Scott, a former Marine Corps sergeant, was a keynote speaker at the November 2009 summit where Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki proclaimed that he and President Obama were “personally committed to ending homelessness among veterans within the next five years.” (The VA now cites the end of 2015 as its target.)
That crusade thus far has housed 12,990 veterans, an average of 361 per month. At the last count, which took place in January 2012 and was released in December, some 62,000 veterans still were homeless, meaning the campaign would need to average about 1,300 per month to meet its mark.
“While there may have been those who did not think ending veteran homelessness was possible (when Shinseki made his 2009 vow), it brought much needed attention to the matter,” Scott said. “And it has, in turn, created many new funding opportunities for veterans experiencing homelessness.”
Scott hammers at the problem in a state VA officials hold out as a shining prototype, where in 2012 veterans accounted for just 13 percent of the adult homeless population — down from 20 percent in 2011. He oversees a tangible symbol of that drive, a former Howard Johnson hotel refurbished into apartments meant to shelter more than 130 homeless veterans. It’s called Grand Veterans Village…