Help for Homeless Veterans

Amy Klobuchar

U.S. Senator, Minnesota

Minnesota’s long, cold winters can be tough on everyone, and this one has been tougher than most. But every winter is toughest on those among us who don’t have a bed or a roof over their heads.

For some, the hardship of homelessness is compounded by the bittersweet truth that they had once honorably served their country in uniform.

According to a national study released in February, about 16 percent of all homeless adults are veterans, even though veterans make up only 10 percent of the adult population.

In Minnesota, according to a 2009 survey of homelessness by Wilder Research, the number of homeless veterans is at an all-time high – nearly 700 individuals in Minnesota who previously served in the U.S. military are homeless on any given night. And with more veterans returning from major combat action, Minnesota has seen its number of homeless veterans increase by 7 percent from 2006 to 2009 and the number of homeless women veterans more than double.

The Wilder Research survey also found that 57 percent of our homeless veterans have developed serious mental health problems, and 45 percent are alcoholic or drug addicted.

But these aren’t just numbers. These are men and women, sometimes with children, who have served our nation. They raised their right hands and proudly wore the uniform for this country. At the very least, they deserve a home.

One way we can help ensure that these veterans have access to homes is through the  “Housing and Urban Development and Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing” program (known as HUD-VASH), which offers housing vouchers and help with job training for veterans who suffer from chronic mental illness or other disabilities.

Traditionally, the VA has had difficulty reaching many homeless veterans who do not live in the vicinity of a VA Medical Center like those in Minneapolis, St. Loud, and Fargo. I believe that veterans in Austin, Worthington and Detroit Lakes should have access to the same services as those in the Twin Cities. That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation, “The Helping Homeless Veterans Act” that uses existing programs for rural areas but doesn’t require new funding.

I heard from the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans and others that it would be more effective if the VA could form partnerships with community-based groups to provide these case-management services, allowing the services to reach underserved veterans around the state.

Specifically, the legislation cuts red tape by authorizing and encouraging the VA to join with state and local governments, tribes, and community-based service providers to administer case-management services, ensuring that homeless veterans have access to the housing care they need right in the communities where they live.

Community-based providers are often in a better position than that of the VA to effectively deliver these services to homeless veterans who are currently living on the streets or in shelters.

Cosponsors of my bill include Republican Senators Scott Brown (MA), John Cornyn (TX), James Inhofe (OK), and Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Democratic Senators Mark Begich (AK), Robert Casey (PA), and Bill Nelson (NE).

The legislation also has support from a wide range of veterans and social service organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled Veterans of America, and National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

When we ask our men and women to fight and sacrifice for us in defense of our nation, we make a promise that we will give them the support they need when they come home. This legislation offers one way to fulfill that promise for our most vulnerable veterans, those who are homeless.