Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan During the Veterans' Homelessness PIT Count Conference Call

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thank you all for joining us today. As you know, this week marks a historic moment for our country, as the Obama Administration draws the war in Iraq to a close.

As Vice-President Biden said in Baghdad last week, it was the heroic work of our servicemen and women that brought this moment about - a moment many thought impossible only a few years ago.

Today, I'm proud to be joined by Secretary Shinseki to honor their service in a different way, as we announce real progress in the fight to end homelessness among our nation's veterans.

Each year we measure this progress through our annual "Point-in-Time" count, which estimates the scope of homelessness on a given night in America.  

In fact, this past January, I participated in Washington, DC's count with VA Deputy Secretary Gould - and saw for myself the extraordinary commitment volunteers across the country have to ensuring no one who has served our country ever has to endure the tragedy of homelessness.

And I'm proud to say that this year's count reports that between 2010 and 2011, veterans' homelessness went down nearly 12 percent.

In the wake of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, that's nothing less than extraordinary.

This progress is part of a broader commitment on the part of the Obama Administration to prevent and end homelessness.

Indeed, just last year we released Opening Doors, the first ever federal strategic plan to end homelessness.

The culmination of a decade of bipartisan progress at the federal, state and local levels, Opening Doors marshals the collective force of 19 separate agencies to this cause - reflecting President Obama's belief that homelessness isn't just a noble fight. It's a problem we can solve.

And with partners like Secretary Shinseki, Opening Doors commits us to solving veterans' homelessness inside of five years.

It's an ambitious goal, but one we are making real progress toward using tools like HUD-VASH, an innovative partnership between our two agencies which combines HUD's Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance with VA's case management and clinical services.

As some of you know, when this Administration took office the HUD-VASH program had not fulfilled its potential in housing homeless veterans.  

But with the new commitment our agencies made to HUD-VASH, we've housed about 20 times as many veterans in the last two years as we had before - and more than 25,000 veterans since the beginning of the program.

As critical as HUD-VASH is, it isn't the only tool we've used to ensure that our country's heroes and others have access to safe, stable housing. 

One of the key resources responsible for the progress we report today has been the Recovery Act's Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program-or HPRP-which saved more than 1 million people from living on our nation's streets.

And as we start to implement the HEARTH Act President Obama signed into law, we will be able to continue providing HPRP's rapid re-housing and preventive services to veterans beginning to return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

With HEARTH, for the first time we will be able to provide a true continuum of assistance to our veterans - from prevention and outreach, to emergency shelter, transitional housing and rapid re-housing, to permanent supportive housing.

As this new report proves, our commitment is producing results. And that's not all we've proven.  

In a climate where unemployment is coming down but remains unacceptably high, we've proven that targeted investments can reduce homelessness - even in the wake of a historic recession.

We've proven that ending the "revolving door" of emergency rooms, shelters and jails doesn't just help homeless individuals and families - it saves money for the taxpayer.

And we've proven that, through collaboration and smart government, we can prevent and end homelessness for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country.

To quote the Vice-President again, American fighting men and women in Iraq were given a mission as complicated and as challenging as any in our history.

Our task in the months and years to come, as we work to end veterans' homelessness, does not compare to the heroism and valor of our troops. But our charge is every bit as clear - and together, it's one I know we will meet.

So, it is my privilege to turn things over to my friend, colleague, and partner in the Obama Administration who will help make it possible - Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Eric Shinseki. 


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