When Justin Fisher deployed to serve in the Iraq War in 2009, he was performing an extraordinary act of service for our country. For one thing, he was deploying to Basra — one of the most dangerous places in Iraq — during one of the most dangerous times of the war. For another, he came out of military retirement to do so. He didn’t have to re-enlist, but he did, because of his commitment to the United States of America.
Sadly, Justin’s heroic decision to serve came at a steep price. During that deployment, Justin developed post-traumatic stress disorder that eventually followed him home from war. This made it hard for him to maintain steady employment as a civilian, and before long, the unimaginable happened: Justin found himself homeless in the country he’d served for so long.
Today, Justin is steadily employed and happily living with his family on his farm in Minnesota — but the reality is that he never should have experienced homelessness in the first place. In fact, “homeless veteran” shouldn’t be a phrase that exists in our vocabulary. Our nation’s veterans have fought, sacrificed, and bled for us, and — because of that — they carry the visible and invisible scars of war to this day. Now, it’s our job as Americans to fight for them.
As the leaders of the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA; the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD; and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, or USICH; that’s exactly what we’ve been doing: fighting to ensure that every veteran has a safe and stable home. We still have a long way to go to accomplish that goal, but today, we are proud to announce that we are making real progress.
New data from HUD shows that veteran homelessness in the U.S. has decreased by 11% since 2020, the last year for which we have complete data. This represents the biggest drop in veteran homelessness in more than five years, and it happened during a global pandemic — proving that we can resolve homelessness even under the most difficult circumstances. Altogether, the estimated number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the U.S. has declined by 55.3% since 2010.
Since we gathered this data in January, we have made even more progress. As we write this, we have housed 31,000 veterans this calendar year — putting us on track to meet our goal to help 38,000 veterans experiencing homelessness find permanent housing by the end of December.
This decrease in veteran homelessness didn’t just happen. Thanks to the leadership of President Joe Biden and the historic resources and flexibilities provided by Congress during the pandemic, we cut through red tape and focused on the two outcomes that matter most: housing veterans who are experiencing homelessness and preventing veterans from falling into homelessness in the first place.
We are making this progress by using the evidence-based “Housing First” model of care, which treats housing as the immediate solution to homelessness, but not the only solution. That means we quickly get a veteran into housing, then focus on the support they need to stay housed — from health care and job training to legal and education assistance. This model works because it treats people with dignity, personalizes their care, and recognizes that — without housing — every other aspect of a person’s life suffers.
This year’s progress proves that we know what it takes to solve homelessness, for veterans and all Americans. The Housing First approach we’ve been using to address veteran homelessness is the same approach we are using to address homelessness for all Americans. And our momentum shows that when leadership is committed, resources are invested, and government and community partners take collective action, the fight against homelessness is one we can win.
But, to make that happen, we all need to work together and learn from the lessons of the past two years. This means that Congress must provide the housing resources and authorities that Biden has asked for in the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget — including funding for targeted homelessness programs and 200,000 new housing choice vouchers. It means that employers must continue to hire veterans. It means that landlords and housing providers must continue to rent to veterans. And it means that all Americans must continue to call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838 when you know a veteran in need of assistance.
As Biden says, “There is not a single thing America cannot do — not a single thing beyond our capacity — if we do it together.” For too long, too many veterans like Justin Fisher have served our country only to find themselves without a place to live in it. Together, we cannot, must not, and will not rest until every veteran — and every person — has a home in the United States of America.
Denis McDonough is the secretary of Veterans Affairs. Marcia L. Fudge is the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Jeff Olivet is the Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
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