WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials on Wednesday reversed course on plans to dramatically alter how funding for homeless veterans programs is handled, promising “absolutely no change in the funding” until fiscal 2019.
In recent weeks, veterans advocates had been upset over plans from department leaders to shift funding previous restricted to homeless housing vouchers — specifically, the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing program — to general purpose money.
VA leaders said the move would allow regional directors more flexibility to push money into what they saw as top local priorities. But advocates worried that could lead to ignoring homeless veterans outreach and assistance in favor of other budget gaps, undoing years of progress addressing the problem.
The estimated number of homeless veterans dropped from more than 74,000 individuals in 2010 to fewer than 40,000 in 2016. In 2017, the number rose by almost 600 veterans after seven years of decreases.
In a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin in October, officials from the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans said they objected to “any conversion of special purpose homeless program funding for any purpose,” calling it potentially “catastrophic” to progress made in recent years.
Estimates show the total number of veterans without stable housing increased by about 600 from 2016 to 2017.
On Wednesday night, Shulkin agreed to abandon the change for now.
“Over the next six months, I will solicit input from our local VA leaders and external stakeholders on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most,” he said in a statement. “Based on that input we will come forward with proposals for fiscal year 2019 on how to improve the targeting of our homeless program funding.”
Responding to concerns about the homeless program money being used for other issues, Shulkin stated that “there will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs” and “we will not be shifting any homeless program money to the Choice program.”
Shulkin also noted that President Donald Trump has requested an additional $66 million in homeless veterans assistance funding for fiscal 2018. That budget plan still has yet to be approved by Congress, even though the new fiscal year began October 1.
In 2010, then-President Barack Obama and VA officials made a public pledge to “end veterans’ homelessness” in coming years, an effort that was paired with big boosts in funding for community intervention programs at both VA and HUD.
In June, VA Secretary David Shulkin said he no longer saw the previous goal of zero homeless veterans as a realistic target for his department. Instead, VA officials are now looking at a “functional zero” goal of around 15,000 homeless veterans nationwide.