Carson Wants 'Flexibility' from Congress on Forthcoming Proposals to End Veteran Homelessness

Theodore Neubauer, a 78-year-old Vietnam War veteran who is homeless, passes time in his tent Dec. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told PJM he’s been “amazed” by the attention President Donald Trump has given to him regarding solutions to opioid addiction, metal health and homelessness among veterans.

Wilkie, who has led the VA since July, joined Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson recently to announce a drop in the number of homeless veterans in the United States. According to HUD’s latest Annual Homeless Assessment Report, “the total number of reported veterans experiencing homelessness in 2018 decreased 5.4 percent since last year, falling to nearly half of the number of homeless veterans reported in 2010.” In total, “37,878 veterans experienced homelessness in January 2018, compared to 40,020 reported in January 2017.”

The Obama administration had set a goal to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. PJM asked both Carson and Wilkie if the Trump administration has set a similar goal.

“The goal, obviously, is to get homelessness under control in this country for veterans and for non-veterans, for everybody. It’s a major focus; the Interagency Council has therefore been reinvigorated,” Carson said on the conference call with Wilkie and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Matthew Doherty. “The date would be as soon as possible.”

When asked what HUD and the VA need from Congress and the White House to combat veteran homelessness, Carson said, “What we need from Congress, obviously, is their cooperation. We’re going to be coming up with various programs and various proposals – we are going to need flexibility in order to be able to carry those things out, so we just need a cooperative sprit from both sides of the aisle.”

Wilkie agreed with Carson’s statements and expressed confidence in the White House following through on its “commitment” to veterans.

“In my brief tenure, I’ve been amazed at the attention the president has given to me as the secretary of the VA, and he’s focused really on three specific issues regarding veterans: homelessness, opioids and metal health. And, again, I go back to my first answer, they are all part of the continuum, and homelessness in many cases being a byproduct of problems with those other issues I just raised,” he said.

“I have absolute confidence in the commitment from the White House in addressing the issue and it’s an amazing study in America… it’s not a one-size-fits-all homelessness crisis. The issues in Alaska are very different from the issues in West Los Angeles, which are different from the issues here in New Orleans. As long as we understand those nuances, I think we can get a better handle on addressing the issues nationwide,” Wilkie added.

Carson said the Trump administration’s timeline to end veteran homelessness is “as soon as possible.”

“I don’t think I can be more specific than that, but we’re obviously very much concentrating on this. I have to say it’s been wonderful working with Secretary Wilkie and with some of the other agencies as we focus on this particular problem,” he said.

Despite the recent drop in the number of homeless veterans overall, Doherty said the population of homeless veterans is rising in larger cities like Los Angeles.

“It’s something we are certainly working on and paying a lot of attention to and providing assistance to those communities,” Dougherty said on the conference call. “But in the majority of communities, we’re seeing a decline in veteran homelessness.”