Listen to Senator Murray discuss the need to end veterans homelessness and the challenges we face.

Listen to formerly homeless Walla Walla veteran Mike Brown describe his journey from the streets to counseling veterans.

Listen to Senator Murray question Veterans Secretary General Eric Shinseki and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan.

Listen to Senator Murray question Mike Brown, King County Housing Authority Executive Director Stephen Norman, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Barbara Poppe.

 Veterans Hearing
U.S. Veterans Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki, Walla Walla Corps of Recovery Discovery (CORD) Program Manager Mike Brown, Senator Murray, and U.S. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan before a hearing today on ending homelessness among veterans.  

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned Mike Brown a formerly homeless veteran from Walla Walla and Stephen Norman the Executive Director of the King County Housing Authority on ending veterans homelessness in Washington state.  The discussion came in a unique joint Appropriations Committee hearing on addressing veterans homelessness for chronically homeless veterans and improving prevention efforts to keep those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan off the streets.

“Every night, as many as 100,000 veterans experience homelessness,” Senator Murray said at today’s hearing.  “Many of these veterans have lived on the street for years and are plagued by significant challenges such as mental illness and substance abuse.  In order to heal and remain in stable housing, these veterans will need a great deal of support.  But there is no question that they have earned that support.”

At the hearing Mike Brown, a Vietnam-era veteran from Walla Walla told his own story of going from homelessness and meth addiction to now helping other veterans find stable housing:

“Since 2005 I have gone from living on the streets, eating out of dumpsters to living independently, working full time and this past weekend I was able to give my daughter away at her wedding which was one of the proudest moments of my life,” Brown said at today’s hearing. “Through a lot of hard work I now am an assistant program manager and case manager helping other veterans regain their lives back and navigating the same road.”

King County Housing Authority Executive Director Stephen Norman also discussed the challenges that he is seeing locally in Seattle and the surrounding region. The hearing also included testimony from U.S. Veterans Secretary General Eric Shinseki and U.S. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan.

The full text of Senator Murray’s statement at the hearing follows:

This morning we are holding a joint hearing with the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.  I want to thank Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Hutchison, as well as my own Ranking Member Bond for joining me today and for being such great partners in the effort to end homelessness among our nation’s veterans.

Every night, as many as 100,000 veterans experience homelessness.  Many of these veterans have lived on the street for years and are plagued by significant challenges such as mental illness and substance abuse.  In order to heal and remain in stable housing, these veterans will need a great deal of support.  But there is no question that they have earned that support.

At today’s hearing, we have the opportunity to discuss how to provide our veterans with the services they need to be successful. I want to welcome VA Secretary Shinseki and HUD Secretary Donovan to discuss the efforts of their two departments in ending homelessness among the nation’s veterans.

I also want to welcome our witnesses on the second panel.  Including, Barbara Poppe (POPPY), executive director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness who has been working to bring federal agencies together to end homelessness.

I also want to extend a welcome to Stephen Norman, the executive director of the King County Housing Authority in Washington State.  He has done so much to help place homeless veterans in housing, and I thank him for traveling all this way to provide some insight into the challenges he and successes he has seen locally.

And finally, I want to welcome Mike Brown from Washington State.  I am honored that he is with us today to share his own story of moving from a life of homelessness and addiction to one of independence.  Mike has lived many of the challenges we will discuss today and is now a case manager providing assistance to homeless veterans who face the same daunting task of rebuilding their lives that he did.

The road from homelessness to permanent, stable housing is not easy.  But the good news is that we understand the solution.

Over the past decade, we have gained a great deal of experience in successfully housing the chronically homeless, many of whom are veterans. There have been multiple studies published that demonstrated the effectiveness of the permanent supportive housing model—in terms of improving outcomes for the chronically homeless and saving money for the taxpayer.

The need for a solution for the veterans living on the street was why we restarted the HUD-VA Supportive Housing or HUD-VASH program three years ago. It was clear that we needed permanent housing and services for veterans if we were truly going to end homelessness among veterans.

By bringing together HUD and the VA, we tapped into the expertise of both of these federal Departments to bring veterans the housing and services they need. And now, we can look to the experience of veterans using HUD-VASH as a measure of the program’s success.

Veterans like Terry Donscheski, a homeless veteran from Washington State coping with addiction, who received a HUD-VASH voucher.  He is now employed and in June, will graduate from Walla Walla Community College with an Associates Degree.

Stories like those of Mike and Terry remind us that we can end homelessness for veterans.   It simply requires the right tools and leadership.

I want to commend Secretary Shinseki and Secretary Donovan for demonstrating the leadership and the commitment to ending homelessness among the nation’s veterans.  We have a good start, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. 

After years of talking about ending veterans’ homelessness, the Administration has set a goal and put forth a plan.  However, it is not enough to have a goal or a plan; any plan must be implemented well and achieve results to be successful. It is imperative that these programs be run effectively.  The taxpayers and the veterans that need these services deserve nothing less. 

At the outset of the resumption of the HUD-VASH program, the VA was slow to hire case managers, delaying assistance to veterans.  And possibly more difficult was the challenge of instituting a new program and new way thinking at dozens of VA Medical Centers across the country. 

Relationships had to be built in many communities between housing authorities and the VA.  In some cases, old program rules and comfort with the usual way of doing business in each program impeded effective collaboration. 

This resulted in delays in getting veterans off the streets and into housing. 

While we have made progress since the program began in 2008, challenges persist.   I remained concerned about low leasing levels—only 25 percent of the vouchers from 2009 are now in use housing veterans. 

HUD and the VA must impose performance measurement for PHAs and VA Medical Centers that hold them accountable for their ability to use these vouchers well.  This includes targeting the veterans most in need; Fostering partnerships on the local level, not only with each other but; with homeless providers in the community; reducing the time it takes to get veterans into housing;  and ensuring the long-term success of veterans.

These challenges have been identified and solutions have been suggested.  Now it’s time to get to work to implement these solutions. Increasing the supply of permanent supportive housing for our neediest veterans is central to achieving the goal of ending homelessness among veterans within five years. 

I think HUD-VASH is a key tool to achieving this goal.  So, I was both surprised and disappointed that no funding was included in the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget for new HUD-VASH vouchers. I agree that we need to make improvements to this program, but I don’t think halting the program for a year is the answer. 

Many of these veterans have lived on the streets for years.  They shouldn’t have to wait any longer, not when we know what works. As we continue to work to end homelessness for those veterans that have been homeless for years, or even decades, we cannot ignore the many challenges facing returning veterans. 

Many have significant wounds from recent conflicts—both physical and emotional.  And all of them are returning to an economic climate with limited job opportunities. 

Last year, 1 in 5 young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were unemployed. We must stay focused on this population and address their challenges early.  Many of these new veterans home from war are at-risk of homelessness, and sadly, some have already begun to appear at our homeless shelters.

As we work to address these needs, we must also be aware that many of these veterans have different needs than earlier generations of veterans.  There is an increasing number of female veterans and veterans with families.

The changing face of our veteran population requires that we change practices at the VA to meet these needs.  We will only be successful if we have the appropriate tools to meet veterans where they are. If we are going to avoid the mistakes that we made with veterans of prior wars, we needed to identify those most at-risk of homelessness early and work on prevention strategies.  This includes ensuring access to medical care, affordable housing, and education and jobs.

Our two subcommittees pushed for increased efforts around prevention by funding a pilot program in 2009 to examine how to prevent veteran homelessness, particularly among those now returning from overseas.  And I am pleased to see that the Administration has brought greater focus to prevention. 

So today, I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses on how we can use all of these strategies—from prevention to permanent supportive housing—to achieve the goal of ending homelessness in five years. 

With that I turn it over to Chairman Johnson.