The huge scandal which rocked the U.S. Veterans Health Administration last year shined a light on conditions which no one who has served in the military should ever face.
CNN reported on April 30, 2014 that at least 40 United States Armed Forces veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix, Arizona, Veterans Health Administration facilities. By June 5, 2014, Veterans Affairs internal investigations had identified 35 veterans who had died while waiting for care in the Phoenix VHA system. The House passed legislation to fund a $1 million criminal investigation by the Justice Department. Top health official, Dr. Robert Petzel, retired early and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki resigned from office amid fallout from the controversy.
The health administration has a long way to go before all the necessary corrections are in place. However, there is good news regarding homeless veterans. Lancaster County in Pennsylvania announced that it has no more homeless veterans. According to reports, there were 26 veterans living on the streets or in emergency shelters at the beginning of the year, but they all found homes by July.
Other cities and states have reported similar progress. New Orleans, Houston, and Las Cruces, New Mexico have all reported a zero homeless veterans population this year. Connecticut and the cities of Phoenix and Salt Lake City have also ended chronic homelessness among vets. New York City is well on its way to ending chronic homelessness among vets this year.
These positive results are not the result of a magic wand. They came about from government simply doing what it is supposed to do—using its resources to help people. Increased outreach to the homeless population and the right use of federal funding and housing vouchers is what made the difference.
This is clear evidence that the federal initiative to end homelessness can work, and it’s not just for veterans but for mass homelessness in general. Homelessness really can be reversed. After ending veteran homelessness, the government has committed to ending all chronic homelessness by 2016 and homelessness among children, youth, and families by 2020. As more funding is made available to cities to end this epidemic, we can expect to see significant decline.
In Los Angeles County, the push to make emergency shelter available is actually starting one month earlier this year. About 1,400 individuals, veterans included, are expected to be housed this winter.
Nationally, more than 600,000 live on the streets on any given night. The numbers started rising in the 1980s at the same time that affordable housing dried up. In 1970, there was a surplus of affordable units; today there’s a shortage of 5.5 million.
The progress seen recently is due in part to the government putting more money into the National Housing Trust Fund. If fully funded, 1 million affordable homes could be created over a decade.
I would encourage every Inglewood resident and business owner to take time out on November 11 to honor veterans. The veteran’s center in Inglewood, at 733 Hindry Avenue, has been assisting veterans in getting back on their feet for years. Job assistance, housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment are among the services offered. Inglewood is the inaugural site for the U.S. Veterans Initiative. It opened in 1993 with only five clients. Today, the site serves 540 veterans daily.
You can donate at the center or go online to www.usvetsinc.org.