The number of homeless veterans in the United States has significantly declined in the past four years.
According to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the number of homeless veterans has fallen 33% since 2010. There were 49,933 homeless vets in January 2014, which indicates a drop of 24,837 people over four years. These numbers include a 40% decline of veterans sleeping on the street.
In a recent press release, the federal agencies pointed to government programs like Housing First and HUD-VASH to explain the drop. Both aim to offer quick, permanent and affordable housing to individuals and families facing homelessness.
"As a nation, we have proven that homelessness is a problem we can solve," U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Laura Green Zeilinger said in the release.
The good news comes amid a flurry of bad press. In April, CNN reported that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for medical appointments. The full scope of the problem wasn't recognized until a few months later, when a government report revealed that 57,000 vets were waiting for their first appointments and another 64,000 had never been seen at all.
The mismanagement and resulting bad press led to the resignation of then-Secretary Eric Shinseki. Public opinion was unsurprisingly dismal; according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll conducted in May, 47% of Americans thought that veterans received worse care at VA hospitals than they would at regular civilan hospitals.
So, are these new numbers trustworthy? Given the onslaught of negative attention the VA has received lately, it makes sense that the administration would want to push out as much good news as humanly possible.
Fortunately, it appears as though the numbers are genuine. Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight presents a strong case as to why: The Obama Administration has spent an enormous amount of money on this, coming primarily in the form of housing vouchers, which were highlighted in the HUD's press release. This scenario "is a case of a government intervention that worked," Casselman writes. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans has also said that it trusts the numbers.
To that end, President Obama has proposed a $164 billion budget for the VA for 2015, which represents a 6.5% increase from 2014.
While the work isn't done yet, this is a great step. The VA is by no means a perfect organization — far from it, in fact. But these numbers prove that it's capable of doing its job correctly.
"We have an obligation to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home," U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said in the release. "In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do." If the VA has its way, the ranks of homeless vets will dwindle to zero by the end of 2015.