The Obama administration has set the goal of ending veterans homelessness by 2015 and the year between 2009 and 2010 saw a 17% decline in the population.
Last week, the two Secretaries, as part of teams of volunteers, participated in the annual Point in Time Count of the homeless in Washington, DC. Despite the hoopla surrounding their participation, the Cabinet secretaries said walking the streets with volunteers is the best way for them to gauge their progress.
“’I tell my staff, you can’t sit in Washington with a thousand-mile-long screwdriver and try to fine-tune everything,’ Shinseki said. ‘I’m at the other end of the screwdriver now. This is where problems get solved.’”
Washington, DC was one of the 3,000 local cities and counties, including New Jersey’s 21 counties, participating in the count.
And one of the individuals experiencing homelessness that Donovan’s team counted was 54 year old Michael Williams. He identified himself as a former Marine and as being chronically homeless.
The VA-HUD partnership has been the impetus for several major changes in the way the federal government addresses veteran’s homelessness.
“One step was (for the VA) to join with HUD in following a common methodology for tallying the numbers of homeless. ‘Their way of counting was better,’ Shinseki said.
Moreover, VA orthodoxy held that homeless veterans needed to be successfully treated for mental health or substance abuse problems before they could get housing. Shinseki came around to the ‘housing first’ movement advocated by HUD, which holds that the best way to treat such problems is first to place people in permanent supportive housing.
As he participated in the Count, Donovan made the following observation.
“I’d be disappointed if the numbers don’t drop,” Donovan said. “We’re making a huge amount of progress.”