The VA continues to strive toward its goal to end Veteran homelessness by 2015, and some progress has been made. On December 12, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, conducted a joint conference call with media to announce a 12% decline in the number of Veterans classified as homeless, from January 2010 to 2011.
In the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin, homelessness may not be as visible as in metropolitan areas, but without a doubt it still exists in these rural areas. “Some homeless individuals stay with friends,” (e.g., couch surfing), “or at one of the few Homeless Shelters in our rural areas, which are only designed to provide a temporary living accommodation,” said Nicole Foster-Holdwick, Homeless Program Coordinator for the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, Michigan.
According to statistics from the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, there were 84 homeless Veterans in the Upper Peninsula that sought services from community agencies in 2010. The total estimated total homeless population in the same region is 4,303, a nearly 80% increase since 2007.
Data provided by community service providers and shelters in northern Wisconsin show 69 homeless adults and children in Langlade, Forest, Oneida, and Vilas counties and 31 homeless people in Marinette and Oconto counties as of January 2011. No specific data was available on the number of homeless Veterans in northern Wisconsin.
To address the issue of Veteran homelessness, the VA has partnered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide vouchers to subsidize rental housing for homeless Veterans and their immediate families. The VA screens eligible Veterans and provides case management, while HUD provides the rental subsidies from its Housing Choice program. There are currently 14 vouchers being used by Veterans in the Upper Peninsula, administered by the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center.
Additionally, the VA is meeting with local and state agencies and organizations to develop partnerships to address homelessness in the communities at the community level. A homeless summit hosted by the VA in Marquette, Michigan last month with over 50 people in attendance from community agencies and organizations. “Veterans are a part of their communities, and that is where we can come together to end Veteran Homelessness,” said Foster-Holdwick, “the VA needs to work closely with local community organizations.”
The VA’s Homeless Program staff makes contact and works with local community organizations to identify Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The VA staff then reaches out to these Veterans and provides case management and referrals for medical and mental health treatment. They also collaborate with community organizations and agencies to meet the Veterans’ housing and subsistence needs.
Veterans or someone who knows a Veteran, who may be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless can call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) or visit http://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/NationalCallCenter.asp.