Thank you, Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg. I am pleased to join you and Secretary (James) Peake in this announcement.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for coming.
I am very pleased that Charles Witherspoon is with us. He is a member of the VA Veterans Advisory Council and received one of the first VASH vouchers fifteen years ago. The reason we are here today is because veterans like Charles should not be forgotten.
I’m sure both the Mayor and Secretary Peake would agree that Americans owe a vast debt to our veterans. Yes, we do. Through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and both wars in Iraq, our veterans have safeguarded America and served with distinction. We are thankful and proud of their service and many sacrifices.
But when they return home, circumstances can sometimes be difficult, even disappointing. After the cheers, handshakes, and adulation, life goes on. And it is hard to return home, take up where you left off, and find your place, even in the best of situations. For those of us who benefited from a veteran’s service, we must be mindful of the difficulties and adjustments of homecoming. We must not look away and forget. Rather, we must step forward and help. Service is a two-way commitment between veterans and those they protect.
Our continued assistance means a commitment that follows veterans through years of ups and downs, especially when a veteran becomes homeless. So, today we announce the renewal of a joint HUD/VA program to provide assistance for our nation’s homeless veterans. This program, called HUD-VASH, or “HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing” program will provide approximately 10,000 new vouchers for homeless veterans and their families.
By way of background, the HUD-VASH initiative dates back to 1990. It was started by former VA Secretary Ed Derwinski and Buffalo’s Jack Kemp, former Secretary of HUD. HUD provided the housing vouchers and the VA provided the needed case management services. At that time, the program provided over 1700 vouchers to homeless veterans at 35 sites. While many of those vouchers are still in use by homeless veterans, no additional vouchers for HUD-VASH have been provided since then.
We continued to serve veterans under other efforts. But, I am pleased that funding was restored by the President and the Congress for this current fiscal year (2008). I would especially like to recognize the valuable work of Senators Patty Murray and Kit Bond, and the other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. And the level of funding, which is $75 million, allows us to reach about 10,000 veterans, including 1,000 of them right here in New York City. Added to our other efforts, this is a major expansion of the funding available for homeless veterans, a quantum leap forward.
We are expediting the funding so that the vouchers will be available by Memorial Day.
And I am also pleased that the President has requested another $75 million in his new budget for Fiscal Year 2009. If approved, this would allow us to reach up to 20,000 homeless veterans.
The infusion of HUD-VASH resources enhances what we are doing through our targeted homeless resources. The joint efforts between HUD and its public and private sector partners have been successful at confronting chronic homelessness. Early on in this Administration, President Bush set a goal to end chronic homelessness in America. He said that we must break a cycle of circumstances and behaviors that consistently place the chronically homeless on the streets. Last December, HUD announced grants of $1.5 billion nationwide to address the problem of homelessness in America, the latest in a commitment that, since 2001, has totaled approximately $10 billion to support the housing and service needs of the homeless. The grants provide assistance across the entire spectrum of homelessness, from those who find themselves on the streets for the first time and need immediate shelter…to those who need assistance with problems of addiction or dependence… to those who need help in finding more permanent housing. This continuum of care is vital because homelessness is a complex, difficult, multi-dimensional problem, both for those who are homeless and for those who are working to meet the needs of the homeless.
And there is considerable evidence that we are making progress. Thanks to new efforts at data collection, we have a better idea of how many Americans are homeless. We learned last November that, across the country, due to a focused attention on ending chronic homelessness, local communities reported a nearly 12 percent drop in chronic homelessness in just one year! This means that nearly 20,000 fewer persons are living on our streets. That was good news. It showed that the hard work of thousands of people is paying off…that our efforts can make a powerful, positive difference.
But we still have a long way to go before eliminating chronic homelessness in America, including among our veterans. The HUD-VASH initiative will help, giving communities more funding to help homeless veterans in need.
I am reminded of our duty to veterans every day by my own father, a proud veteran. He came to America, to Syracuse, as an immigrant from Northern Italy, and then fought during the Second World War to safeguard his new country. Veterans like my father have made our freedom possible. Veterans have defended us, protected us. Today, grateful citizens reach out to offer shelter and services with the HUD-VASH program.
NOTE: To read the Press Release, visit http://archives.hud.gov/news/2008/pr08-052.cfm