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Homeless veterans the focus of new report

By Steve Fidel | Posted - Feb. 10, 2011 at 8:33 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new federal study says 76,000 veterans were homeless on a given night in 2009 and 136,000 spent at least one night in a shelter during that year.

In Utah, Veterans Administration figures for 2010 show about 340 veterans were homeless on a given night with 1,695 experiencing a homeless episode during the year.

About 80 percent of those are in the Salt Lake area, said VA homeless program social worker Rich Landward.

Veterans are 50 percent more likely to become homeless than Americans generally.

The federal study is a first-ever analysis conducted jointly by the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a HUD press release, and is labeled as a primary goal in the 2010 Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. The plan has the objectives of ending veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015 and homelessness among families, youth and children by 2020.

"This report offers a much clearer picture about what it means to be a veteran living on our streets or in our shelters," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

"Understanding the nature and scope of veteran homelessness is critical to meeting President Obama's goal of ending veterans' homelessness within five years."

Key findings of the report indicate that veterans are overrepresented among the homeless population generally, about one in every 168 veterans spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program, and that veterans are less likely to use shelters than the homeless generally.

In January, HUD awarded $1.4 billion to keep nearly 7,000 local homeless assistance programs operating in the coming year and allocated another $1.5 billion intended to help prevent individuals from becoming homeless.

In Utah, Landward said the challenge to end homelessness is exciting. "It's something we can achieve in Utah," he said. "I've been doing this a long time and I've never seen the resources to end homelessness among veterans that we have. There is a lot of energy and motivation right now."

I've been doing this a long time and I've never seen the resources to end homelessness among veterans that we have (now).

–Rich Landward

Post traumatic stress syndrome, depression, anxiety and substance abuse are high among the homeless veteran population. "A lot of times their combat experience can contribute to mental health and substance abuse problems that lead to homelessness," Landward said.

Two primary components in eliminating homelessness are effective partnerships among involved agencies and adequate resources.

"We're helping vets in the community be aware of the resources we do have," Landward said. "In Salt Lake City and Utah we have a very strong group of individuals helping veterans move out of homelessness."


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