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Homelessness Declining Among Vets in Mass.

Yesterday, Lieutenant Gov. Timothy Murray announced that from January 2010 to January 2012, Massachusetts saw a drop in its homeless rate among veterans by 26%. That national rate of decline for the same period was 17%.

The statistics were revealed in a report by the US Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development’s  2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Services Coleman Nee attributed much of the progress to VA’s efforts to increase their involvement with states to end homelessness…

Part of that cooperation is the creation of the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing or  HUD-VASH program, which through federal funding, allows state agencies to work with veterans in obtaining affordable housing with vouchers, and also allows social workers to help veterans overcome issues by providing mental health and other services.

Rosanne Frieri,Veterans’ Service Officer for the City of Pittsfield, said that the VASH vouchers help pay for the veterans’ first and security once they find an apartment or affordable housing.

At the local level, Frieri said that since the VASH vouchers have been made available, she has seen a drop in the population of homeless vets in Pittsfield. She did say though, that for the future, an increase in affordable housing stock is needed.

Secretary Nee said that shifting the focus from shelter-care to permanent housing was a significant factor in the drop in homelessness.

Steven Como, Executive Vice President of Soldier On, a private organization that helps vets obtain housing and counseling services, said that the VASH vouchers are vital to the vets, but also said that veterans they see returning from overseas in the future will have different needs than many of the vets they help now.

Soldier On allows veterans using HUD-VASH vouchers to obtain housing, including at their own units in Pittsfield. Como said that the combined efforts of the federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector, are what’s needed to keep bringing the homeless rate down.

2012 did see the implementation of a Boston-based pilot program with the VA known as Statewide Housing Advocacy for Reintegration and Prevention program. The program allows the state to help local organizations and caseworkers help meet veterans needs through peer support and with mental health specialists. The program is expected to be extended to the rest of the Commonwealth.

The 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress said that five states account for about half of the nation’s total homeless population. New York accounts for about 11% of the nation’s homeless.

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