Veterans: Find home for those who protected ours

The list is long: Former President George W. Bush (R), President Barack Obama (D), former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Dels. Scott Lingamfelter (R), Rich Anderson (R), Betsy Carr (D), Barbara Comstock (R), Chris Head (R), Charniele Herring (D), Manoli Loupassi (R), Jennifer McClellan (D), Ron Villanueva (R). State Sens. Janet Howell (D), John Edwards (D), Frank Wagner (R), and John Watkins (R). And they all have something in common. You ask, “What is it that these politicians from often polarized political backgrounds have in common?” The answer: These elected officials, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama and others, have led efforts to make the end of homelessness a priority.

Most recently, Virginia Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security John Harvey Jr. announced at the Ending Virginia Veterans Homelessness Summit that Gov. McAuliffe is committed, with other governors and mayors across the United States, to ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The June 9 event was organized by the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness in collaboration with the Virginia Homeless Outcomes Coordinating Council and the Virginia Department of Veteran Services for state and local leaders to come together with the purpose of developing a state plan to end veteran homelessness. According to the 2014 Point-In-Time Count, a homeless census taken over a 24-hour period, there are 617 veterans in shelters or on the streets of Virginia communities. It is estimated that almost 2,000 veterans will experience homelessness over the course of the year.

Like most Americans, I have a special place in my heart for our veterans. Each was willing to sacrifice his or her life on our behalf. In 2001, President George W. Bush said, “We must remember that many who served in our military never lived to be called veterans. We must remember many had their lives changed forever by experiences or the injuries of combat. All veterans are examples of service and citizenship for every American to remember and to follow.”

It is our duty to make sure they have a home. After all, they fought to protect ours.

Ending veteran homelessness has received bipartisan political support, public and private resourcing, and nationwide attention — the end of veteran homelessness is in sight. The end of homelessness in general could be a short distance away, too. Unfortunately, because of state revenue shortfalls, elected officials were unable to continue to prioritize funding for the solutions we know work.

From 2013 to 2014 veteran homelessness declined by 14 percent. Those 617 homeless Virginia veterans can have a place to call home. Permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing are effective in providing such homes. By housing homeless veterans, the commonwealth will continue to do the right thing and save money.

Citing the 100,000 Homes Campaign that recently met its goal of housing more than 100,000 people, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness reported that persons experiencing chronic homelessness cost a community $30,000 to $50,000 annually, compared with $20,000 annually for permanent supportive housing.

By the time veteran homelessness ends in 2015, the Virginia General Assembly will be preparing to consider a new biennial budget. Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness will be there to ask the legislators to prioritize homeless program funding. We expect the end of veteran homelessness to be proof enough of the effectiveness of permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing solutions.

We hope Assembly will be prepared to join us in ending overall homelessness — because we can, but only if we all work together.