The numbers are small, but they are moving in the right direction. From 2010 to 2011, the number of homeless veterans in Hennepin County dropped by 33 percent. That compares to a national drop of 12 percent.
The numbers are based on a one-day shelter and street census taken in January by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
In Hennepin County, Minnesota's most-populous county, the number of veterans in homeless shelters dropped from 201 in 2010 to 143 in 2011. Estimates indicate that 19 percent of homeless single adults are veterans.
Cathy ten Broeke, Minneapolis-Hennepin County coordinator to end homelessness, said the drop can be attributed to the resources being poured into veteran homelessness from Washington. The VA has housed more than 33,000 veterans in the past 2 1/2 years by expanding who is eligible for vouchers that qualify them for Section 8 housing.
A joint program between the VA and HUD combines a voucher with intense support for mental health or substance abuse needs. Veterans pay 30 percent of their income for rent, and the voucher covers the rest. Each voucher costs the government on average $6,500 a year, plus $4,148 in case management services. That is less than the costs of emergency rooms, jails or homeless shelters.
In Minneapolis alone, Ten Broeke said, 205 vouchers have been distributed in a tight housing market where rental vacancies can hover around 1.5 percent.
Most of the veterans being served are from the Vietnam era, but the drawdown of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to tax the system and require applying the lessons learned. "This is not going away soon," Ten Broeke said. "The prevention of these new veterans from having the same kinds of issues and falling through the same kinds of cracks is really key."