Cities Urge Congress to Pass Legislation Supporting Homeless Veterans
WASHINGTON—Speaking today before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Elisha Harig-Blaine, principal housing associate for veterans and special needs at the National League of Cities (NLC), told the committee that Congress must act to pass two bills—S. 1885 and S. 2013—to help homeless veterans find stable housing. The bills make needed improvements to how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs serves homeless veterans and their families. NLC urges Congress to swiftly pass both bills to strengthen federal support of local initiatives focused on ending veteran homelessness.
"Chairman Isakson, Ranking Member Blumenthal and the entire Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs have done an outstanding job to bring veterans issues to the forefront," said Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities (NLC). "As a nation, we owe it to our veterans and their families to end veteran homelessness for good. We will continue to work with our partners in Congress, the administration and private foundations to make veteran homelessness in our cities a thing of the past."
"Since Phoenix became the first city to end chronic veteran homelessness in 2013, cities from New Orleans to Houston to Salt Lake City have worked tirelessly to ensure veterans in their cities have secure, safe and stable housing," said Elisha Harig-Blaine, principal housing associate for veterans and special needs at the National League of Cities (NLC). "Local efforts are leading the way to end veteran homelessness in our communities, and Congress must pass S. 1885 and S. 2013 to support these initiatives."
NLC is the lead partner with the Administration for the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. To date, more than 800 leaders have accepted this challenge, including 628 mayors, nine governors and 165 county and city officials. NLC also supports national technical assistance initiatives that are accelerating local efforts to end veteran homelessness.
The following is an excerpt from the submitted testimony by Elisha Harig-Blaine to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs:
Veteran Housing Stability Act of 2015
In December 2013, Phoenix, AZ became the first city in the United States to end chronic veteran homelessness. When announcing this milestone, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said, "The strategies that we're using to end chronic homelessness among veterans are the exact same strategies that we're going to use to end chronic homelessness among the broader population. This model - doing right by our veterans - is exactly how we're going to do right by the larger population."
Since then, cities such as New Orleans; Houston; Binghamton, NY; Pocatello, ID; Las Cruces, NM; Mobile, AL; and Troy, NY have illustrated what the end of veteran homelessness looks like.
While the progress on veteran homelessness is unprecedented, improvements can still be made and S. 1885 is an acknowledgement of this reality. As discussed by Senator Blumenthal during his remarks while introducing this legislation, S. 1885 seeks to modernize housing programs provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to ensure they are appropriately meeting the needs of homeless veterans and their families.
S. 1885 makes many needed amendments that will improve how VA can and should serve homeless veterans and their families, but we believe there are several opportunities to further enhance these proposals.
In Section 3, "Program on Provisions of Intensive Case Management Interventions to Homeless Veterans Who Receive the Most Health Care From the Department of Veterans Affairs," S. 1885 would require VA to pilot intensive case management services in no less than six locations. The proposed legislation requires VA to issue a report analyzing the effectiveness of this program no later than December 1, 2018.
In delineating the content of this proposed report, S. 1885 requires VA to provide "An estimate of the costs the Department would have incurred for the provision of health care and associated services to covered veterans (as described in subsection (b) of section 2067 of such title, as added by subsection (a)(1)) but for the provision of intensive case management interventions under the program, disaggregated by provision of intensive case management interventions in locations described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) of subsection (c) of such section."
NLC encourages the authors and co-sponsors of this proposed legislation to expand the requirements of VA in this section of the report to include costs beyond those incurred by the VA alone but for the provision of intensive case management interventions.
NLC encourages the collection of information regarding the costs of providing health care and associated services to veterans that are incurred by other entities including cities, counties and states, as well as costs that are not related to the provision of health care and benefits.
For example, costs associated by the interactions covered veterans have with the public safety, judicial and penal systems, while not incurred by the VA, should be measured to allow for a more robust cost-benefit analysis of the intensive case management intervention services that VA would provide as part of this program.
By documenting the costs incurred by entities outside of VA, the report required by S. 1885 can support municipal leaders in their efforts to ensure that limited local resources are used in the most cost-effective manner to end veteran homelessness.
In Section 4, "Program to Improve Retention of Housing by Formerly Homeless Veterans and Veterans at Risk of Becoming Homeless," S. 1885 would give grants to providers who have successfully housed veterans in transitional housing programs to incentivize these organizations to convert facilities into locations that provide permanent housing.
To analyze the impact of this program, S. 1885 requires a report be submitted to the Committee's on Veterans' Affairs in both the House and Senate no later than June 1, 2019.
S. 1885 requires this report to review the proposed program using four overall assessment areas. NLC encourages a broadening of the information sought within each of these areas.
NLC encourages the review and analysis of this program to also capture de-personalized information regarding any mental health diagnoses of veterans, as well as any assessment regarding their histories of substance use and/or abuse. In collecting this information, it is hoped that a more accurate understanding can be developed about the impact mental health and substance abuse plays in the retention of housing.
In Section 6, "Outreach Relating to Increasing the Amount of Housing Available to Veterans," S. 1885 directs the Secretaries of VA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to collaborate with numerous entities in an effort to increase the number of housing units identified and committed for housing homeless veterans.
The recruitment of landlords to join collaborative community efforts to end veteran homelessness is both vital and challenging. Thanks to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, community stakeholders are increasingly partnering with committed local leaders to use their platforms in order to raise public awareness about the need for landlords to be more actively involved in ending veteran homelessness. Successful landlord recruitment events have occurred in cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas. NLC is currently working with elected officials and community partners in Tucson, Charleston and Omaha to recruit landlords.
NLC recommends that S. 1885 require VA and HUD to separately, but not independently, provide a report to both the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on how they would execute this within their respective organizational structures and with key national partners.
In Section 7, "Establishment of National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans," S. 1885 directs the Secretary of VA to establish and operate a center which carries out multiple functions, including the integration of "evidence-based and best practices, policies, and programs into programs of the Department for homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness and to ensure that the staff of the Department and community partners can implement such practices, policies, and programs."
NLC draws the committee's attention to the latter portion of this direction.
As cities across the country begin to see what the end of veteran homelessness looks like, their ability to ensure this tragedy never returns becomes paramount. For veteran homelessness to be kept rare, brief and non-recurring, cities must be able to work with federal partners and ensure the proper resources are in place. The National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans' work to aggregate data helps federal and local officials make decisions about resource allocations allowing all stakeholders to know they can maintain their progress.
To allow the National Center to do this critical work, among its other activities, NLC urges the committee to work with Senate colleagues and provide permanent authorization for the center as quickly as possible.
Los Angeles Homeless Veterans Leasing Act of 2015
In January 2015, VA resolved a long-standing conflict with numerous community partners in the Los Angeles area regarding the use of the West Los Angeles Campus.
To ensure and support the execution of the agreement VA entered into, Senators Feinstein and Boxer joined Representative Lieu in sponsoring S. 2013 and filed a letter with the committee in August.
Support for S. 2013 has come from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Los Angeles Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Bob Blumenfield have also written letters of support, which NLC attaches to this testimony (see NLC testimony appendix A and B).
In addition, Councilmember Bonin has filed a resolution in support of S. 2013 for consideration and approval by the full city council. A copy of the resolution is attached with our testimony and it is expected the resolution will pass when voted upon on October 7 (see NLC testimony appendix C).
Given the high concentration of homeless veterans in Los Angeles and the report from earlier this year that the number of homeless veterans in the city has increased 6% since last year, NLC strongly urges the committee to advance this bill and work closely with colleagues in the House and Senate to have this legislation passed as soon as possible.
The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.