Regional leaders host a roundtable to address veteran homelessness
The most recent Point In Time count of the homeless in San Diego County found a double-digit drop in the number of veterans living on the streets. On Monday, city and county officials met with leaders of homeless outreach and service programs for a roundtable discussion on getting that number even lower.
The roundtable was held at the San Diego Veterans Museum, just ahead of Veterans Day.
“Everyone served because they wanted to be a part of something greater than themselves,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher, who is a Marine Corps veteran. “They were willing to sacrifice their own well-being for the greater good and that’s the spirit that transcends no matter what era you served, no matter what branch of the military, or whether it was peacetime or combat.”
Fletcher said one key element is getting information about services out to veterans. He said there's a gap between what's available, and what veterans know is available.
“We have a federal government and the (Department of Veterans Affairs) that have programs and systems in place, and so I think more aggressive outreach and engagement to get veterans signed up for what they’re available for — get them through the VA verification process. I think that’s an area where we can go and we can move,” Fletcher said.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said one program from the Veterans Administration gets a great deal of the credit for reducing the number of homeless veterans in San Diego.
“Over the last two years to be able to get a 27% reduction in the number of homeless veterans in San Diego is directly attributable to that fact that you have VASH vouchers from the VA,” Gloria said.
VASH is an acronym for the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, which includes rental assistance for homeless veterans. Fletcher said more landlords are needed to step up and accept VASH vouchers.
"We’re not asking (landlords) to take something for nothing,” Fletcher said. “They’re going to get paid for that housing, but need to be willing to step up and say they’re going to dedicate a certain number of units to our veterans.”
Gloria noted that there has been an increase in shelter space. “In less than two years time, we’ve increased shelter capacity in this city by nearly 40% and if the state can help us to empower us to do more, we are game,” Gloria said.
Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was withholding state funding to cities for dealing with homelessness, challenging them to “do better.”
Fletcher and Gloria both said they look forward to meeting with the governor later this month to discuss the homeless situation in California.
"It's across the state, and what I see are a lot of other cities that are not nearly doing what our city is doing ... and so my hope is that the governor catches those folks and wakes them up to be a part of this solution,” Gloria said.
Gloria noted that veteran homelessness is one area where the numbers are going down, not up, saying, “When we can prove that we can do that in the veteran population, we need to replicate that amongst our domestic violence victims, amongst our transitional foster care youth, amongst other vulnerable parts of our community… where we need to make a similar commitment.”