With Memorial Day around the corner, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that he is introducing the Homes for Heroes Act, a bill that would expand housing and rental assistance for homeless veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that approximately 200,000 adult veterans live on the streets or in shelters on any given day, and nearly twice as many are homeless at some point during the year. Schumer said the legislation is supported by President Obama - a former lead sponsor of the bill - and will be likely to pass under a new Congress and Democratic Administration. He is joined by Senators Dick Durbin, Sherrod Brown and Robert Menendez
"One homeless veteran is one too many," Schumer said. "Under this new administration we have an enormous opportunity to help fill the housing gap for Upstate New York's homeless veterans, but our federal programs fall short. The legislation I am pushing will help to provide adequate housing for our nation's homeless heroes. Our veterans have served our country and in return we must serve them. The least we can do is make sure they have a roof over their head in the nation they fought to protect."
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs there are 4,742 homeless veterans in New York.
The mental health and homelessness programs run by the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have been starved of funding for years, leaving them unable to handle the increasing wave of new veterans who may find themselves on the streets. According to a NAEH report released in 2007, in order to reduce chronic homelessness among veterans by half, permanent supportive housing needs to be increased by 25,000 units and the number of vouchers available to veterans needs to be expanded to 20,000 up from only 10,000.
Schumer noted that the federal government has not done nearly enough to counteract the causes of veteran's homelessness or ensure that the VA has the resources it needs to ensure housing for lowincome or mentally ill veterans. Roughly 45 percent of participants in the VA's homeless programs suffer from mental illness and more than three out of four have a substance abuse problem.
To help provide muchneeded housing for homeless vets, the legislation would establish a $225 million assistance program for community and nonprofit organizations to purchase, build or rehabilitate housing for lowincome veterans. The organizations would also provide supportive services including substance abuse and mental health counseling, vocational and employment training, transportation, child care and other services to help veterans live independently.
The act would also expand and make permanent the highly successful HUDVeterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, which provides permanent housing subsidies and case management services to homeless veterans with mental and addictive disorders. By expanding the HUDVASH program, the act would authorize 20,000 vouchers annually and make the program permanent. The HUD-VASH program combines HUD Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance for homeless veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Veterans Affairs at its medical centers and in the community. Currently, the HUDVASH program only authorizes 10,000 vouchers annually.
Finally, the legislation would create a Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs at HUD to coordinate services and housing with Veterans Affairs. It would require that public housing authorities come up with plans to address the needs of homeless veterans as part of their fiveyear comprehensive housing affordability strategy.