Data repeatedly cited in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress has shown that male vets living in poverty are twice as likely to become homeless when compared to non-vets. Worse yet, for women veterans the incidence of homelessness triples in comparison.
But funding for homeless veteran programs at the Department of Labor remains at just over $38 million a year, even though it has been authorized for years at up to $50 million. Even if funded at fifty million as authorized, it would still be dwarfed next to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or HUD spending on programs that target homeless veterans.
For disabled veterans, access to VA Service-Connected Disability benefits still has its problems, but at least they are working on it. But eligibility for receiving VA Non-Service-Connected Pension benefits is limited to those veterans who served during wartime, regardless of whether or not they served in or near a combat zone. The largest segment of today’s homeless veterans served after the Vietnam War and before Gulf War I, so are not eligible for these subsistence pensions.
Isn’t it about time that some attention gets paid to the glaring poverty-homeless correlation that is so significant among veterans, and for something to get done about it? We could start by ramping up funding for veteran employment assistance programs to meaningful levels, and expanding eligibility for VA subsistence pensions to include all who have served.
Leon Winston is the Chief Operating Officer and Housing Director of Swords to Plowshares, where he has worked on the housing, treatment, and income support needs of homeless and low income veterans since 1995. Referred by the SF VA Medical Center, he came to Swords as a client in 1993, and is a graduate of our Transitional Housing Program.
Leon possesses a Master of Nonprofit Administration/Organizational Development and Bachelor of Public Administration degrees from the University of San Francisco, and Certification in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. He is an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Navy.