Nonprofits making progress in tackling homelessness among veterans, but challenges remain

Nonprofits making progress in tackling homelessness among veterans, but challenges remain

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Vietnam War-era Army veteran Harold Tilson Jr. is shown at the Veterans Empowerment Organization in Atlanta, where he has been in transitional housing the last three months after being unhoused earlier in the year. (Gabriella Rico via Associated Press)

ATLANTA —  Along a busy Atlanta residential road, a 68-year-old Vietnam War-era Army veteran has found what he calls a “match made in heaven.”

Harold Tilson Jr. was homeless earlier this year but for the last few months has been living in transitional housing run by the nonprofit Veterans Empowerment Organization, or VEO. It provides emergency and permanent housing for dozens of previously homeless military veterans.

“If you’re homeless and you need help, you couldn’t ask for a better place to go because they take care of just about everything,” Tilson said.

It’s part of a years-long effort by government agencies and nonprofits around the country to address homelessness among veterans. Since January 2020, the numbers of homeless veterans have fallen 11% and have gone down 55% over the last 13 years, according to a government count. That’s in sharp contrast with the general homeless population.

Authorities credit the Obama administration’s work to make housing veterans a top priority and more recently the $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief package that boosted the Department of Veterans Affairs’ homeless programs and expanded rental aid. Advocates also point to partnerships between government agencies, nonprofits and corporate foundations.

Last month, the VA gave $1 billion in grants to community nonprofits for the upcoming year to tackle the issue, the most ever, said Jill Albanese, director of clinical operations at the Veterans Health Administration’s Homeless Programs Office.

“This isn’t something that we’re doing on our own: This is really something that we’re doing through partnerships,” Albanese said. “They’re the experts on homelessness in their communities.”

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