U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, outlined legislation to improve programs for homeless veterans and their families in East Cleveland today. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, about 12 percent of the adult homeless population is comprised of veterans.
“It’s our responsibility to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home and an opportunity to succeed,” Brown said. “That’s why I’m working to pass the Veteran Housing Stability Act of 2015 – which would make meaningful improvements to services for homeless veterans and give more veterans access to permanent housing. Even one veteran on the street means we aren’t doing enough to tackle this problem.”
Brown was joined by Royce Sheetz, a Cleveland-area veteran who stayed at the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) Men’s Shelter after a period of homelessness and who now lives independently and is fully employed. Brown was also joined by Andrew Genszler, a Navy Chaplain who is the President and CEO at LMM. Today’s event was held at the first home completed as part of the Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative. The initiative is a partnership between the Cuyahoga Land Bank and LMM, which provides permanent affordable housing for homeless veterans living in Cuyahoga County.
“LMM is committed to addressing long-standing problems with innovative solutions and the veteran’s housing partnership is a good example,” said Genszler. “Our homeless veterans have sacrificed much in service to our country and this partnership is just one way that we can honor and serve these men; supporting them on a path to self-sufficiency.”
The Obama Administration has made tackling veterans homelessness a priority and while homelessness among veterans has declined 36 percent since 2010, too many veterans remain on the streets. According to newly-released numbers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 47,725 veterans were homeless during a “point-in-time” survey conducted on a single night in January 2015. In Ohio, during that single-night study, 1,183 veterans were homeless.
Brown discussed how the Veteran Housing Stability Act of 2015 would increase veterans’ access to permanent housing options. Specifically, the bill would:
· Encourage landlords to rent to veterans: The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to collaborate with HUD, public housing authorities, tribally-designated housing entities, and other entities – such as realtors, landlords, property managers, and developers – to encourage more landlords to rent to veterans.
· Provide grants for organizations that support formerly-homeless veterans: The bill would require the VA to carry out a program to increase housing stability and retention by providing grants to community organizations that provide after-care to formerly homeless veterans. This provision would allow communities to repurpose existing transitional housing capacity to serve other needs, such as permanent housing opportunities for veterans.
· Modify a VA program that sells homes from VA’s foreclosure inventory at a discount to nonprofit agencies: Currently these organizations can only acquire properties from the VA to use as transitional housing for homeless veterans. This provision would broaden uses to include housing stability for veterans who are very low-income, at-risk of becoming homeless, or homeless.
· Expand the definition of a “homeless veteran”: This bill would expand “homeless veteran” to provide additional benefits to veterans in need, including a veteran or veteran’s family fleeing domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions in their current housing situation.
· Ensure continued research and evaluation into efficacy of VA programs: The bill would set national performance targets for the VA’s housing placement rates, and would base continued funding for grantees on merit-based factors like the grantee’s permanent housing placement rate. It would also codify the VA’s National Center on Homelessness to guarantee its continued role in researching the most cost-effective approaches to ending veteran homelessness and disseminating them to the field.
· Improve outreach to veterans: The bill would create a new program to target homeless veterans who are health care “super-utilizers” for more intensive case management interventions, allowing VA to leverage existing data to improve the efficacy of its assertive community outreach teams.