WASHINGTON - The country has made progress toward its goal of ending veterans' homelessness by 2015, but budget cuts might stand to threaten the momentum, according to federal officials.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies announced the target in 2010 as part of the Opening Doors campaign, seeking to end chronic and veterans' homelessness by 2015 and to end homelessness among children, families and youth by 2020.
Since 2010, homelessness among veterans has fallen by 24 percent across the country, according to a point-in-time report that the Department of Housing and Urban Development released late last month. The assessment measures homelessness on a single night in January each year.
In HUD's most recent assessment, 57,849 veterans were homeless.
According to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the recent reductions are notable because they broke previous patterns of increased homelessness during difficult economic times.
"It's a remarkable reversal of what is traditionally the trend line," he told reporters last month.
In late November, though, HUD said the budget for its existing homelessness-assistance programs would be cut by 5 percent, partly because of flat funding from Congress and the impact of sequestration, the automatic, across-the-board federal spending reductions that began last spring.
Though these cuts don't affect the VA's operating budget, officials are concerned about the impact they'll have on veterans.
Vince Kane, the director of the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, said his office partnered closely with HUD and the community programs it supported across the country.
The reduction in funds "will have a dramatic impact on us," Kane said. "If programs get cut by HUD and others, that impacts our ability to care for the entire family."
The VA contributes grants to nonprofit programs designed to help low-income veteran families, through programs such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families. But these organizations receive significant support from HUD grants, as well.
"Now is not the time to retreat from doing what we know is working," HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement. "We shouldn't be cutting our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society."
Kane said the VA had known from start that ending homelessness wasn't something it could do on its own. "We still have too many veterans on the streets, and the push is to intensify the services even more," he said.