The Department of Veterans Affairs announced it planned to pledge an additional $400 million of its nearly $20 billion in COVID-19 emergency response funding to help homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness.
Tens of thousands of veterans are homeless on any given night in America, and more than 1.4 million were at risk of becoming homeless before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
As the pandemic continues to pummel the economy, more and more veterans are put at risk of homelessness, and many of those already homeless have lost access to the few resources they had as shelters across the country shuttered.
Earlier in the pandemic, advocates warned that without permanent housing, America could expect to see a “huge spike” in veteran homelessness.
In April, Congress and VA signed off on providing $200 million in emergency funds to help house homeless veterans in hotels and pay for testing for those who fall ill. Now, the department is allocating another $400 million.
“The additional allocation of CARES Act funding will support the continuity of care of vulnerable veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement Thursday. “With this additional funding, VA’s Homeless Programs Office can provide more homeless prevention assistance and emergency housing to make it possible for veterans to maintain appropriate physical distancing and to ensure they are living in safe conditions.”
The additional cash is earmarked for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, which “offers secure housing for veterans,” according to the department.
In May, Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Mike Levin, D-Calif., in the House and Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Ark., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in the Senate, introduced the Homeless Veteran Coronavirus Response Act aiming to protect homeless vets by using existing funds for a wider range of services to help.
VA does not currently have the authority to provide food, phones or other supplies to homeless veterans, VA officials told Connecting Vets. The bill, in part, would allow VA to use existing funds to provide many of those resources and more, loosening limitations on VA for ways in which it can use emergency money to help homeless vets.
The more than $600 million so far allocated to help homeless vets during the pandemic is also expected to benefit the Housing and Urban Development VA Supportive Housing Program, according to the department, which works to place vets in “safe housing to isolate them from the virus.”
Advocates have said they need closer to $1.3 billion to address homelessness and housing insecurity caused by the pandemic.
About $88 million has also been provided for VA’s Grant and Per Diem Program and $10 million for the Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program, according to the agency.
VA plans to host a webinar Friday on budgeting and planning for the organizations which will receive the funding.