Senators Introduce Bill to Provide Housing for Homeless Veterans
U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) was today joined by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in introducing the Homes for Heroes Act, a bill that would expand housing and rental assistance for homeless veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that approximately 200,000 adult veterans live on the streets or in shelters on any given day, and nearly twice as many are homeless at some point during the year.
"As we work to end the war in Iraq, we must also prepare to deal with the generation of service members returning home from war," said Senator Obama. "As long as there are veterans or veteran family members searching for shelter on the streets, and as long as there are wounded service members receiving substandard medical care, we have failed in our duty to honor the commitment of the brave men and women who chose to serve. We must provide our returning heroes and their families with every resource they need to rebuild their lives."
"As we've seen at Walter Reed and elsewhere, our veterans returning from war have not received the help and resources they deserve," said Senator Schumer. "The thousands of homeless veterans are just another stark example of how the Administration has let our veterans down. This bill will right this wrong by providing the men and women who have served our country with housing assistance. Too many veterans need a roof over their heads and it's time we provide it now."
Senator Robert Menendez said, "A grateful nation should work to ensure that the men and women who risked their lives serving their country are not left stranded when they fall on hard times back home. Just as we have acted to improve health care for injured veterans, we should act to make sure veterans can put a roof over their heads."
"There are more than 2,000 homeless veterans in Ohio. They fought for us. We should fight for them. That's what this bill is about, and I am proud to support it," Senator Brown said.
The "Homes for Heroes Act" will address these concerns by:
I. Establishing Permanent Housing and Services for Low-Income Veterans & Families
* The bill would expand the supply of permanent affordable housing for low-income veteran families. This would not only provide shelter for homeless veteran families, but also help prevent low-income families from falling into homelessness.
* The bill establishes a $225 million assistance program for community and nonprofit organizations to purchase, build or rehabilitate housing for low-income veterans.
* The organizations would also coordinate with the VA and HUD to provide supportive services including substance abuse and mental health counseling, vocational and employment training, transportation, child care and other services to help veterans live independently.
* Tenants would pay a certain percentage of their income as rent.
II. Expanding Rental Assistance
* The legislation would expand the highly successful HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, authorizing 20,000 vouchers annually and making the program permanent. The current authorization expires at the end of 2011 and only provides a small fraction of the vouchers needed to meet demand (currently, only 2,500 are authorized in FY 2011).
* This program provides permanent housing subsidies and case management services to homeless veterans with mental and addictive disorders. The VA and HUD coordinate to screen and provide services for recipients.
III. Focusing Government Resources on Homeless Veterans
* The bill would establish the position of Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to coordinate services to homeless veterans and serve as a liaison to the Department of Veterans Affairs, state and local officials and nonprofit service organizations.
* The bill also places additional priority on veterans by requiring all local public housing agencies to come up with plans to address the needs of homeless veterans as part of their five-year comprehensive housing affordability strategy submitted to HUD.
* The bill also calls for comprehensive reports to Congress on the housing needs of homeless veterans and the steps the government is taking to address them.
IV. Exclusion of Veterans Benefits from Rent Considerations
* The bill would prohibit benefits received by any member of a family from the VA from being included as income for the purposes of determining the amount of rent paid by a family for occupancy of a dwelling unit assisted under a federally assisted housing program, or in housing assisted under a federally assisted housing program.
V. Assistance to Housing/Service Providers
* The bill authorizes $1 million in grants for assistance to service providers during the application process and to assist with the execution of their projects. Senator Obama has also sponsored the Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act (S. 713) and the Lane Evans Mental Health Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act (S. 117) to reform medical treatment for soldiers and veterans.