Officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are conceding they will not get to zero homeless veterans by the end of the year, but they insist that missing the goal should not overshadow impressive progress in helping those individuals.
The department's annual point-in-time count, released Thursday, pegs the estimated number of homeless veterans across America at just under 48,000 as of January 2015. That’s only a 2,000-person a drop of only 2,000-person from a year earlier, but a decline of more than 27,000 since 2010.
Officials say the figure likely has dropped even further in the 10 months since the count was conducted, but also said they do not expect to meet the goal set in 2010 of eradicating the problem this year.
In fact, the HUD report includes "a new operational definition of ending homelessness" stating that "the number is not expected to reach zero for any particular group."
The report notes that "communities should have systems in place to ensure that people newly becoming homeless have a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience of homelessness and one that keeps them safe. With that in mind, the goal of ending veteran homelessness is within sight."
Matthew Doherty, executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, defended the 2015 deadline as a way to focus community efforts.
"The value of having these kinds of urgent and ambitious goals is that it drives more progress than we ever would have achieved otherwise," he said. "As we get closer to that goal date, we're seeing that level of urgency and action in communities."
"Communities are very focused on moving quickly now, but also laying the groundwork of having a system in place to sustain the effort."
White House and VA officials repeatedly have said they believe the goal of ending veterans homelessness is realistic. President Obama also has announced a target of ending homelessness for families, youth and children by 2020.
In recent months, officials from Houston, New Orleans, Salt Lake City and Phoenix have announced that they effectively ended veterans homelessness within their city borders, by putting in place systems to rapidly assist and house veterans in distress.
White House officials said earlier this month that Virginia has become the first state to achieve that same mark, and predicted more will soon follow.
But HUD Secretary Julián Castro noted Thursday that cutbacks in federal funding led to smaller drops in the annual homeless count this year, and warned that continued focus and support is necessary to fix the problem.
"Despite the positive strides our nation has made, I know that we have a long way to go before we can end homelessness for good," he said.
Veterans make up about 10 percent of the adult homeless population, according to the latest count.