Merced County, nation see fewer homeless veterans
Veteran homelessness in the U.S. continues to decline, including a 23 percent decrease in Merced County, according to an annual national estimate announced Thursday by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The annual report shows that the national number of homeless veterans dropped by 5.4 percent from 40,020 in 2017 to 37,878 this year. That number is also nearly half the number reported in 2010.
Merced County’s decrease brought the number to 13 veterans living in shelters or on the street, the report says. Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties each saw their numbers dip by more than 10 percent.
HUD estimates 23,312 veterans were found in shelters across the country, while volunteers counted 14,566 veterans living on the street. In Merced, the annual tally found three veterans were staying in a shelter and the other 10 were languishing on the street.
In 2015, there were 88 homeless veterans in Merced County, according to the tally. The next year saw the number go down to 25 homeless veterans, and 2017’s count found
17. The annual tally is a snapshot of the homeless problem and does not reflect an exact count, officials have stressed.
Helping the homeless veteran population often comes with the added difficulty that many of them suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, according to Phil Schmauss, a longtime homeless advocate and member of the board for the Merced County Continuum of Care.
The strides made in reducing the number of veterans without a home was attributed by local and national homeless advocates to vouchers provided by HUD aimed specifically at former men and women of the armed forces. The HUD-VASH program provides permanent rental assistance from HUD, and case management and clinical services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The report shows a nearly 10 percent decline in female veterans experiencing homelessness. In January, communities reported 3,219 homeless veteran women compared to 3,571 the previous year.
The falling tally of homeless veterans is a sign that the newest efforts by homeless advocates are working, according to Robert Wilkie, secretary of the VA.
In July, leaders
announced a plan to prevent and end veteran homelessness called “Home, Together.” The effort redoubles what has been a plan to end veteran homelessness for several years, according to Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Last year, more than 4,000 veterans, many experiencing chronic forms of homelessness, found permanent housing and support services through the national program, according to officials. An additional 50,000 veterans found permanent housing and supportive services through other VA homeless programs.
“We owe it to our veterans to make certain they have a place to call home,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement.
U.S. military veteran Ken Roark, 54, stands in his bedroom after he acquired housing in Merced through the Sierra Saving Grace Homeless Project in March. He is now in housing in Gilroy, according to Sierra.