Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Remarks
Washington, D.C., Grand Hyatt Hotel, May 29, 2019
As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.
Thank you, Cindy [Borgen, Acting CEO]. And thank you all for inviting me to join you this morning. On behalf of HUD, it is a privilege to share my vision for addressing the housing challenges facing our country's brave veterans who make all of our freedoms possible.
While America continues to witness historic highs in employment, job creation, and financial growth, this Administration is making sure that we care for the heroes that took care of us.
No man or woman who once wore our nation's uniform should ever be abandoned to a shelter or a life on the streets. Indeed, it is HUD's mission to ensure that every veteran has a safe, quality, affordable place to call home.
Together with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), we have made great strides toward the goal of ending veteran homelessness. HUD and the VA have a wide range of programs that prevent and limit homelessness through health care, job training, education, and housing assistance.
But we still have much work to do to provide our nation's brothers and sisters in arms with access to stable housing. So today, I will address three areas that reflect HUD's efforts and priorities to serve those Americans who have so dutifully served our country:
- First, I'll review the very positive results of HUD's most recent "Point in Time" homelessness estimates;
- Second, I'll cover the range of important programs and services that reduce veteran homelessness; and
- Third, I'll highlight how HUD is increasing affordable housing and financial self-sufficiency, which are especially impactful to our nation's veteran population.
"Point In Time" Results
Each year, thousands of local communities across the country conduct one-night "Point-in-Time" estimates of the number of persons experiencing homelessness - in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, and unsheltered locations. While there is still much more work to do, the 2018 data has been encouraging.
Last year, the total number of reported homeless veterans decreased by more than five percent - from more than 40,000 the previous year to less than 38,000.
Among them, more than 60 percent have the safety of residing in sheltered settings. We're also seeing declines in both the number of sheltered and unsheltered veterans.
Nationwide, veteran homelessness has been cut in half since 2010, prompting 71 communities across 33 different states to declare an effective end to veteran homelessness in their areas. Three states - Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware - have declared an effective end to veteran homelessness altogether, which means that in these communities, homelessness is prevented - or if it can't be prevented, it is a rare, brief, and one-time experience.
But to fulfill any great dream, we need a great team to make it happen. So, we are especially proud that more than 880 mayors, city and county officials, and governors have joined the Mayors Challenge to end veteran homelessness in their communities.
In parallel with local communities working together, federal agencies are joining forces, too. In fact, much of the progress toward ending veteran homelessness is due to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program - or "HUD-VASH" - where HUD provides the housing assistance while the VA provides the wrap around services.
The HUD-VASH program is a vital resource that has helped more than 150,000 formerly homeless veterans move into housing with a voucher since 2008. Currently, roughly 77,000 veterans have access to homes because of HUD-VASH vouchers.
Last year alone, more than 4,000 veterans, many experiencing chronic forms of homelessness, found permanent housing and critically needed support services through this initiative. An additional 50,000 veterans found permanent housing and supportive services through VA's continuum of homeless programs. They have been a resounding success.
To support HUD-VASH, last year, HUD and the VA announced an additional $35 million [dollars] in grant funding to 212 public housing agencies across the country to combat veteran homelessness.
HUD-VASH works through combining permanent HUD rental assistance with case management and clinical services provided by the VA. It is complemented by VA programs that use modern tools and technology to identify the country's most vulnerable veterans and rapidly connect them to the appropriate interventions to become and remain stably housed.
As a doctor, I am a firm believer in the power of data driven thinking - and letting the evidence, rather than ideology - guide us in the service of helping others. In medicine, the human life expectancy in the developed world was once roughly 40 years old in the mid-19th century. Today, it is nearly 80 years old. And perhaps the most significant driver of better health outcomes was an industry-wide switch from using ideology to using evidence.
The same is true for obtaining better housing outcomes. Our Housing First model serves veterans through data – rather than through doctrine, or mere guesswork.
But it's not simply Housing First - it's Housing First, Second, and Third:
- First, we make sure a person gets a permanent place to stay;
- Second, we diagnose what left this individual without a home; and
- Third, once we figure out what went wrong, we start putting things right. For each diagnosis, there is be a different, flexible prescription.
Of all the issues facing our veterans - unemployment, mental illness, opioid abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress, or injury – stable housing sits at the center. A veteran will not beat addiction from a street corner, nor find a steady job without a steady address.
Each year, HUD serves more than a million people through emergency shelter, transitional, and permanent housing programs. With rents rising faster than incomes, we need to bring everybody to the table to produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into shelters and onto our streets. This is not solely a federal problem - it's everybody's problem, and one that we need to work together to solve.
Our grants are an important reason why we're seeing homelessness decline so significantly. Earlier this year, HUD bolstered efforts to end homelessness by providing more than $2 billion [dollars] in homeless assistance grants, which supports more than 5,800 local homeless assistance programs nationwide through the Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Program.
Renewing these grants will allow these providers to continue their work to house and serve our most vulnerable neighbors. These funds support a broad range of interventions, from street outreach to a broad spectrum of housing and related services.
These local providers are on the front lines in our effort to end homelessness. They are located in our cities, towns and rural areas all across our country. But the goal to prevent and end homelessness requires us to always support those on the front lines, just as our Armed Services support our brave soldiers on the battlefield.
Community Reinvestment; Affordable Housing
HUD is also advancing a wide range of programs that promote self-sufficiency, strong families, and job training - which are essential building blocks for sustainable homeownership in lower-income neighborhoods where veterans are often residents.
For example, in February, as part of HUD's Family Self-Sufficiency Program, we announced an investment of $74 million [dollars] to hundreds of public housing authorities across the country, so residents can increase their earned income, save for the future, and reduce their dependency on government assistance.
Unlike the self-defeating incentives common to other rental assistance structures, the Family Self-Sufficiency Program does not increase rent for participating families whose incomes rise. This means residents can pursue the path of self-reliance without fear of losing rental assistance. Instead, any increase in earnings is placed into an escrow account. After completing the program, the family receives the escrow funds and can use them for any purpose, like a down payment on a home or a security deposit on an apartment.
Family Self Sufficiency funds are an investment, and they're already paying dividends. The average household income of Family Self Sufficiency program participants more than doubled during their time in the program, from $10,000 [dollars] at the time of entry to more than $27,000 [dollars] upon program completion. For our nation's brave servicemen and women who benefit from the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, such HUD initiatives break down barriers that block the path to financial self-sufficiency.
Section 3 Program
At the same time, HUD is doing more to ensure that low-income individuals and veterans can achieve higher levels of economic upward mobility. These efforts include putting renewed energy behind Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 - the program that increases access to jobs for low- and very low-income individuals, and contracting opportunities for the businesses that hire them. This program has become even more critical in recent years, as President Trump has made a commitment to putting Americans back to work, and we've made it a top priority to help residents of HUD-subsidized housing become more self-sufficient.
In just the last year, expenditures of covered HUD funding generated more than 29,000 jobs, almost 12,000 of which were Section 3 hires. Also, of the more than $5 billion [dollars] in construction contracts that were awarded during that period, almost half a billion dollars in contracts were awarded to just over 2,500 Section 3 businesses. But as impressive as the numbers are, the real-life stories of individuals whose lives have been touched by the program show the true impact it is having in helping them to build confidence and a better future.
To leverage this impact, HUD maintains a business registry that connects contractors with Section 3 eligible businesses. To date, more than 5,000 businesses have self-certified as being Section 3 eligible, and that number is expected to increase. HUD has also created a more efficient process through which housing authorities, entitlement communities, states, and other HUD grantees can submit the required annual reports that show how they're complying with the Section 3 program.
To expand the impact of Section 3, earlier this year, HUD proposed an updated rule that creates more sustained employment for low-income Americans, provides more opportunity for the vulnerable communities we have a responsibility to support and provides people with marketable skills that can offer mobility and economic freedom.
In this way, HUD is not only helping veterans find steady homes so they can find steady employment - we are promoting sustainable employment so veterans can afford, and eventually own, sustainable homes.
While the number of homeless veterans continues to decline, our work is not complete. We must continue to be vigilant until we eliminate veteran homelessness in every community, from sea to shining sea.
We need our veterans to flourish. Their sacrifices remain the foundation of our liberties, which is the rock on which our national character rests. It is not enough that we keep veterans in our hearts; we must transition them from streets and shelters into safe, quality affordable homes - all across this great homeland we share.
I'd like to thank the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans for your partnership with HUD, and for your tireless efforts to provide resources, assistance, and advocacy on behalf of our brave brothers and sisters in arms.
Working together at the federal, state, and local levels, we can and will continue to make progress until all Americans have a stable home from which they can pursue their own American Dream.
Thank you all for your service, and for being here with me today. God Bless.