COVID-19 Pandemic Threatens Homeless Veterans
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The pandemic appears to be reversing years of progress in getting homeless American veterans off the streets. Over the past decade, homelessness among veterans dropped by about half through the work of the VA and community organizations as well as massive funding from the government. Now what happens? NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans had its annual conference this week...
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KATHRYN MONET: All right, you guys. Welcome to today's session...
LAWRENCE: ...All virtual, of course. Homelessness is counted each year across the country, usually in winter, when more people come into shelters. The results of the count come out in the fall, which means the official number this year will show no effects from the pandemic or the recession. So no one knows what the real number is.
MONET: We're hearing from our members across the country that more veterans than ever are reaching out for help.
LAWRENCE: Kathryn Monet leads the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. She says attendance online for the conference is high, and she's hearing troubling stories.
MONET: We're getting more calls from people who have eviction notices and are unsure about what to do or where to go for help because it's their first time trying to navigate the system.
LAWRENCE: That's borne out on the ground in places that were success stories. New Orleans had reached what's called functional zero five years ago. That means all the known homeless veterans had been offered housing, and resources were in place to house any vets who became newly homeless.
DaVaughn Phillips does outreach in New Orleans for Volunteers of America. He's getting calls from veterans who've never asked for help before.
DAVAUGHN PHILLIPS: We have a lady now. She's living with her kids and facing eviction because she lost her job. Coming into the program now, new, she actually have an interview that's coming up. The interview is for a job - paying her a little less, but the kids are now virtual learning. And many families don't have the support to do child care and have someone to pay for child care.
LAWRENCE: Evictions are still banned in some parts of the country, but those protections are starting to fade. And for many tenants, the rent was just deferred. In a way, veterans are lucky. Even in this crisis, there are vast resources put aside to help them. The government provides special vouchers for veterans' housing, and VA health care as there is a safety net.
Los Angeles has the highest number of homeless and homeless veterans in the country. That's where Steve Peck runs the nonprofit U.S. Vets.
STEVE PECK: There's been a lot of money available very quickly because the government realized the dramatic impact this is going to have on people and businesses.
LAWRENCE: Peck says the pandemic has meant lower occupancy at the 11 housing communities he runs since homeless vets are avoiding group housing because of the virus. But he says the VA has been funding him at the same level. He says keeping organizations like his funded is the way to prepare for what he expects will be an uptick of homelessness in the future. But Peck says many of the stimulus programs that were helping will expire next month.
PECK: But this money is running out. The costs aren't going to go away. The pandemic won't be over in October, so we're not quite sure what's going to happen after that.
LAWRENCE: There are measures moving through Congress to expand support for homeless veterans. But that help, along with a possible second stimulus bill, now appears to be falling behind as the pandemic marches on.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News.
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