On Wednesday, the Veterans Affairs Department released an annual survey showing that the number of homeless veterans rose 1.5 percent in 2017 versus 2016, the first increase since 2010. Also on Wednesday, Politico reported that VA Secretary David Shulkin has decided to end a $460 million program to provide housing for homeless vets.
The VA had quietly announced the decision to end the program, administered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in September, but faced blowback when officials brought up the decision in a Dec. 1 phone call arranged by Shulkin's Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans. Veterans' advocates, state agencies, and even HUD officials attacked the decision, five people on the call tell Politico. VA officials briefed congressional staffers on Tuesday, and all 14 members of the Senate appropriations VA subcommittee asked Shulkin to reconsider the decision. One of the senators, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), called the move "a new low" for the Trump administration and "especially callous and perplexing" given the rising number of homeless vets.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Shulkin said "there will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs," and he "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." The VA decided to shift the funds from the program — in which HUD gives housing vouchers to veterans and VA connects vets with apartments and manages their cases — to local VA hospitals, who can use the money as they see fit, as long as they deal with homelessness.
The defunded program has served 138,000 vets since 2010 and roughly halved the number without housing, Politico says, citing HUD data. "The people in this program are the most vulnerable individuals," says Matt Leslie at Virginia's Department of Veterans Services. "If someone's going to die on the streets, they are the ones."