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Statement of
Fred Karnas, Jr., Ph.D.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs Programs
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
before the
Subcommittee on Benefits
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
U.S. House of Representatives

March 9, 2000

Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee today. It is my honor to represent the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Secretary Andrew Cuomo and Assistant Secretary Cardell Cooper before you today.

The fact that current estimates suggest that on any given night there many be as many as 275,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. is not only tragic -- in this time of significant economic prosperity it is unacceptable. For this reason, addressing homelessness has been a high priority for the Department since the first day of President Clinton's administration, and it is why over that past three years, HUD has provided over $1.1 billion to fund nearly 2,500 programs targeting homeless veterans as one of the primary groups they are serving

HUD's efforts to address the needs of homeless veterans must be understood in the context of the programmatic and policy changes which took place as a result of implementing Priority Home!: The Federal Plan to Break the Cycle of Homelessness. The Federal plan was developed by direction of President Clinton in 1993, and involved input from a variety of federal agencies and thousands of organizations and individuals working to address homelessness.

At HUD, the plan called for increased resources and the implementation of a new approach to addressing homelessness called the Continuum of Care. It must be clear that HUD's mandate is to seek to address the housing and service needs of all homeless persons families with children, persons living with HIV/AIDS, those suffering from alcohol or drug dependence, persons experiencing mental illness, and veterans. It is HUD's special challenge to ensure, to the degree possible, that communities have the tools necessary to craft programs and policies to meet the complex needs of all of these groups.

This morning, I would like to highlight how the Department has successfully expanded its efforts to support community approaches to addressing homelessness broadly, and then more specifically focus on our efforts to target the needs of homeless veterans.


Significantly increased resources have been key to HUD's ability to support the efforts of communities to address homelessness in recent years. Since 1992, thanks to the President's initiative and Congressional support, funding for HUD's homelessness assistance programs has nearly tripled from $450 million to over $1 billion in 1999. And, because the need continues to exceed the resources, President Clinton is seeking to make even more funding available in his FY2001 budget proposal, which includes $1.2 billion for HUD's competitive and formula homeless assistance programs, as well a funding for 18,000 Section 8 vouchers to assist homeless persons move from transitional to permanent housing.

The Continuum of Care Policy

In 1993, under the leadership of then Assistant Secretary Andrew Cuomo, HUD recognized homelessness was more than simply a housing problem. The Department restructured its homeless assistance programs focusing attention on long-term solutions which included housing, but also included job training, drug treatment, mental health services, and domestic violence counseling, among other things. The new homeless assistance policy was called the Continuum of Care.

Besides changing the thinking about how HUD's homeless assistance programs should work, the Continuum of Care approach also restructured the relationship among Federal, state and local governments, nonprofits, and other community stakeholders. It did so by engaging citizens in a common planning process to craft a comprehensive system of housing and services to meet the complex needs of homeless persons. In so doing, HUD recognized that communities were best positioned to know the needs of homeless persons at the local level, and the existing resource infrastructure. In order to obtain funding, communities were asked to submit a comprehensive plan to HUD, which included local priorities for funding.

In addition to calling for a new approach and additional funding, HUD sought to ensure that taxpayer funds directed to address homelessness were used effectively and efficiently by imposing performance as a criteria for continued funding. A successful Continuum of Care includes (1) outreach; (2) emergency shelter; (3) transitional housing; (4) permanent housing or permanent housing with supportive services. While not all homeless people need access to each component, all four must be present and coordinated within a Continuum. A winning application is one that focuses on a coordinated community-based strategy that emphasizes independence and self - sufficiency to the maximum extent possible.

As a result of the implementation of the Continuum of Care approach to addressing homelessness, several significant changes have occurred in the nation's response to homelessness. First, according to a 1995 report by the Barnard-Columbia Center on Urban Policy, the number of persons served has increased at least 4 times and perhaps as many as 14 times depending on the number of persons receiving multiple services. This significant increase reflects both the additional resources and the efficiencies gained from a comprehensive and coordinated process. Second, leveraging of non-HUD funds by HUD funds increased from $38 million in 1992 to $1.8 billion in 1999 providing significantly more resources to address homelessness at the local level.

By 1999, over 83% of the U.S. population (646 cities and 1,860 counties) lived in areas covered by Continuums of Care, and the Barnard-Columbia University Center on Urban Policy study revealed that communities across the nation felt that the Continuum process has significantly improved their ability to address the needs of homeless people.

Reflecting the significance of the impact of HUD's policy changes, the Department received a Hammer Award from National Performance Review, and, in 1999, was named one of 10 winners (out of more than 1,400 nominees) for the prestigious Harvard-Ford Foundation Innovations in Government Award.

Targeting the Needs of Homeless Veterans

Despite the success of the Continuum of Care approach overall, the Department heard from a number of groups serving homeless veterans that additional changes were needed to better meet the needs of homeless veterans. Thus, we undertook the efforts outlined below.


In response to these concerns, on March 19, 1996, HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo created the HUD Veteran Resource Center (HUDVET). Established in consultation with national veteran service organizations, and other Federal agencies, specifically the Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, HUDVET's first and major goal was educational. HUD recognized the need to provide veterans, their families and their service organizations and advocates information on HUD's community based programs and services.

The Department believed that equipped with this knowledge, veterans and their service organizations could become more involved in local planning and decision-making around homelessness assistance. HUD also envisioned that by working together the various Federal agencies and working groups could increase veteran utilization of services and local resources, as well as related Federal programs.

In addition to a special focus on homelessness among military veterans, HUDVET has also become a recognized source of information on other HUD and related Federal programs available to serve veterans at the community and state levels. With the educational mission in mind, HUD worked together with VSO staff and other veteran advocates to develop the HUDVET brochure and the HUDVET Directory of Resources. The brochure provides point of contact numbers for all HUD's Federal homeless program colleagues, as well as providing a brief review of selected HUD programs.

In addition to providing an excellent overview of HUD programs and services, our 400 page HUDVET Directory contains a first of it's kind listing of all Federal, state and local human development planning and service programs available to veterans and their families.

Working with VSO's, HUD has mailed copies of the Directory to every single VSO National Service Officer in the United States. In fact, to date, HUD has distributed over 10,000 copies of the HUDVET Brochure and several thousand copies of the HUDVET Directory.

Working with VSO's, and in particular the Veterans Organization Homeless Council (VOHC) chaired by Bob Piero of the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Homeless Veteran Foundation (HVF) chaired by Harold Russell, HUD developed the HUDVET Web Site which contains information and links to federal, state and local veteran services, including the House Veterans' Committee website.

As part of HUDVET's efforts, the Department has also worked closely the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Labor's VETS program, sharing information, educating community groups regarding the range of services available to veterans and their families.

The success of HUDVET is due, in no small way, to the appointment of Bill Pittman to head the office. Mr. Pittman is a highly decorated combat disabled Vietnam veteran and career Federal employee. Bill served in the U.S. Navy from 1965-1971. He saw duty with the First Marine Division in Vietnam. His decorations include the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism, two Purple Hearts, the Navy Combat Action Ribbon, the US Army National Guard Distinguished Service Medal and the Republic of China Medal of Honor.

Changes in the Continuum of Care Process to Better Serve Homeless Veterans

In addition to the establishment of HUDVET, the Department made a number of policy and operational changes to the Continuum of Care process to further encourage and make possible full participation by organizations serving homeless veterans. The need to include groups representing veterans in local Continuum of Care planning was first highlighted in the 1996 Continuum of Care Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) and continues to be an important factor in our review of project applications. The NOFA specifically states:

    The community process used in developing a Continuum of Care system must include interested veterans service organizations with specific experience in serving homeless veterans, in order to ensure that the Continuum of Care system addresses the needs of homeless veterans.

In addition, the NOFA indicates that high scores result from having maximum participation by various nonprofit providers, among which veterans service organizations are included as an example. Thus, in scoring applications, communities which have not reached out and included groups representing veterans are scored lower than those who have brought them into the process. This point is underscored by a section of the "Questions and Answers" document which accompanies the Continuum of Care application and which includes basic information on including veterans and the organizations representing them in the Continuum of Care process.

The Department has also added language to the contracts of every provider that proposes to serve homeless veterans in their HUD funded housing and service programs which requires them to describe how outreach will be conducted to the veterans population. The grantee must also describe the methods that will be used to ensure veterans' participation including information on specific site locations and referral networks. And, since Assistant Secretary Cooper has made monitoring of HUD's projects a high priority, Field Office staff are in a better position to ensure that the commitments of our grantees to address the needs of homeless veterans are met.

In the last funding cycle, we added language to our conditional grant letters directing those programs which have stated that they will target homeless veterans either primarily or as part of their target population to inform their local VA entities that their services are available to veterans.

In addition, all Continuum of Care grantees are required to submit an Annual Progress Report (APR) containing program narrative, budget, client and accomplishments data on the past year's activities. In 1996, the Department included a new section in the APR focusing on service to homeless veterans. APRs are reviewed and program sites are monitored regularly by HUD's Field Offices.

With these changes in place, the Department has reached out to veterans' service organizations, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, and other groups concerned about the plight of homeless veterans to ensure that they are aware of HUD's programs, how they work, and our expectations of providers. Secretary Cuomo, Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development Cardell Cooper, Acting Chief of Staff Jacquie Lawing, Mr. Pittman, myself, and other senior HUD staff have led sessions at conferences, attended special meetings, and held briefings with these veterans groups in recent years to highlight HUD's homelessness assistance programs.

Technical Assistance

In addition to the program and policy changes, the Department makes available an array of technical assistance resources. Although the HUD Reform Act prohibits HUD staff or consultants from assisting with the development of a specific grant application, the Department can provide general information on programs and clarification of program requirements. National technical assistance providers can work with groups and communities to improve the Continuum of Care process, or to enhance the inclusion of homeless persons in the process. Local technical assistance providers can help with an array of programmatic questions, as can HUD's College of Experts, which includes individual consultants with knowledge of programs for homeless veterans.


We believe all of these efforts have resulted in positive changes. In 1997, the Department funded 657 projects targeting homeless veterans. Overall, for 1997 the success rate of funding for all awarded projects serving veterans was 42 % compared to 41% for all projects. In 1998, HUD funded 805 projects serving homeless veterans. The success rate for 1998 projects proposing to serve veterans was 54% compared to 56% for all applicants. By 1999, over 1,000 projects serving homeless veterans were funded, with a success rate of 62%, the same as for all applicants.

As a result of HUD's efforts to better focus on the needs of homeless veterans, over $1.1 billion dollars has been made available for projects serving homeless veterans in just the past three years. These funds have gone to fund excellent projects operated by organizations such as U.S. Vets, Maryland Homeless Vets, and the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans.

But, application data only tells part of the story. The real issue is what happens when the projects are implemented. As mentioned previously, the Department requires the submission of Annual Progress Reports (APRs) which provide a snapshot of what is happening with funded projects. A recent sample of APRs shows that 28% of all adult males served in HUD's homeless assistance programs are veterans. This figure is proportionate to the rate of homeless males who are veterans (about 33%). Based on this sample, over 150,000 male veterans are served during the course of the year.

There is Still Work to be Done

We believe we have come a long way in addressing the needs of homeless veterans. We would not suggest, however, that we have done all that needs to be done. It seems that at least two significant issues remain.


Often grant applications received from groups proposing to serve veterans do not reflect the capacity needed to administer Federal funds. HUD is committed to improving our technical assistance resources to assist organizations in building capacity. I previously mentioned our efforts to assist existing grantees, and last summer we published new technical assistance materials on the Continuum of Care process and on developing Safe Haven programs for persons experiencing mental illness. In addition, HUDVET provides an array of technical assistance resources that are readily available through the Internet and via our 1-800 number.

In the coming year, we are considering ways we might improve the Department's outreach to veterans' groups regarding the availability of these resources, and ways that we might develop veterans specific TA resources.

Access to the Continuum of Care Process

The other significant barrier to groups seeking funding to assist homeless veterans is at the local level. We have heard from a number of groups who claim that the interests of homeless veterans are not a priority in local planning processes. As mentioned previously, the Department has crafted the application in such a way that ignoring the needs of homeless veterans will affect the community's score in the Continuum of Care competition. However, having said that, there is one significant reality which cannot be ignored, that is the renewal of existing projects. In some communities, the reason that new groups proposing to serve homeless veterans are not prioritized highly is that the renewal demand for existing projects is so high that to include a new program as a priority would require the closing of an existing project. HUD's response has been to seek additional resources to meet the continued need. As mentioned earlier, President Clinton is seeking a significant increase in HUD's homelessness assistance budget in FY2001. Passage of this appropriation will help address the renewal problem and make additional funding available for new programs in most communities.

The Department will also continue to make communities aware of the needs of homeless veterans and encourage veterans service organizations to regularly participate in local planning efforts to educate the community on the special needs of homeless veterans.


Thank you for the opportunity to talk about HUD's efforts to address homelessness. Homelessness among our nation's veterans continues to be an American tragedy. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is proud of the strides we have made in addressing this crisis, and the thousands of homeless persons who, through our programs, have returned to self-sufficiency. However, we, like many Americans, continue to be appalled that even one of our nation's veterans, who have sacrificed so much to benefit us all, should find himself or herself homeless on the streets of our cities and towns. Therefore, we at HUD commit ourselves to continuing our work with this committee, veterans service organizations, and other concerned groups to ensure that the needs of homeless veterans are met.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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