Advocates of homeless veterinarians face the next big challenge: inflation

As coronavirus pandemic restrictions ease across most of the U.S., federal officials and housing advocates are hoping their efforts can result in a significant drop in the number of veterans affected by homelessness in the coming months.

But they’re also already wary of the next looming challenge facing at-risk veterans: inflation.

“Many people are thinking right now about how higher prices will affect their customers and what services or resources they need to contribute to bridge this gap,” said Kathryn Monet, chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

“There are people out there who are already making difficult decisions. Do I pay for medication or gas? Do I buy school supplies or do I pay the additional costs? We are in a difficult moment.”

Several hundred advocates are gathering in Washington, DC this week to discuss these issues — and possible solutions — at the NCHV’s annual conference. This year’s event, which runs through Friday, is the group’s first in-person gathering in three years since the pandemic upended normal operations in communities across the country.

Participants noted that unlike other jobs that have been able to outsource operations to remote locations over the past two years, the bulk of the outreach work done to help veterans affected by homelessness is still personal had to be done.

This means long working hours and additional stress for the community of helpers.

“We had to learn to multitask even more than before,” said Wendy McClinton, president of Black Veterans for Social Justice, a nonprofit organization that offers a variety of housing assistance programs. “And we had to protect our employees, protect our customers, protect their families, and that sometimes meant using resources that we didn’t even know we had before.”

The Department of Labor recently announced $57 million in grants for community groups to help veterans find
The Department of Labor recently announced $57 million in grants for community groups to help veterans find “meaningful employment.”
Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images

The proponents are now using the knowledge they have gained and incorporating it into ongoing operations.

In some cases, this means clients continue to provide services over the phone or web, rather than in person, as this provides faster results. In others, it means offering more single-occupancy options to veterans seeking housing to give them more independence and investment in their situation.

Federal agencies have also made changes in their support services.

On Wednesday, James Rodriguez, assistant secretary for the Veterans Employment and Training Service at the Labor Department, announced $57 million in grants for community groups to help homeless veterans find “meaningful employment.”

Shortly thereafter, Assistant Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Adrianne Todman announced a goal of 200,000 new housing vouchers this year to place veterans in stable housing (about 106,000 are currently in use).

Because of the new resources, combined with the “return” of advocates to pre-pandemic surgeries, officials said they see an opportunity to build on previous efforts to reduce the number of homeless veterans in the coming year.

From 2010 to 2016, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness fell by almost half — from about 74,000 to 39,500 — thanks in large part to a dramatic increase in federal and state funding for programs to address the problem.

Since then, however, the number has largely stagnated. In 2020 — the most recent year in which a full census was taken by federal officials at any given time — the estimated number of veterans affected by homelessness was about 37,200, down about 6%.

Officials saw a 10% drop in the number of veterans using emergency shelters from 2020 to 2021, but it’s unclear how much of that can be attributed to improvements in their housing conditions or concerns about using public facilities amid coronavirus outbreaks.

It’s also not clear to what extent rising inflation could erase those past gains.

According to Monet, rising rents are the most immediate threat to advocates trying to get or keep veterans in reliable housing. But increased costs for food, gas, and other services also play a big part in veterans’ finances.

She said these concerns limit her optimism about how much progress can be made quickly on homelessness.

“We know the housing market is going crazy now,” she said. “So maybe we’re just treading water. And that’s unfortunate because we have these big, bold goals from the federal government and we’re all working hard to encourage all of our partners.”

By bringing advocates back into the room together this week, NCHV officials hope they can chart ways to circumvent these obstacles and create new momentum.

They also expect that the return of the conference can help stimulate new connections between all groups involved, especially as they can now greet these partners with a real handshake rather than a computer screen wave. Advocates of homeless veterinarians face the next big challenge: inflation


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