The Pennsylvania Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee and the Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee today held a joint hearing on the issue of Veterans Homelessness at Drexel University.
In 2010, President Obama set a goal of ending Veterans Homelessness by December 2015. Today, nine governors, 550 mayors, and 151 county/city officials are participating in the “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.” In Pennsylvania, participating municipalities include Allentown, Altoona, Downingtown, Erie, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, West Chester, Wilkes-Barre, and York.
Nicholas Gilliland, Chief of the Division of Outreach and Integration for the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs testified that Pennsylvania joined the program in September of this year and is on track to reduce homelessness by 30 percent by the end of the year. The Department is working with the federal government in addition to four other state agencies.
Marie Nahikian, Director of the Office of Supportive Housing for the City of Philadelphia announced that Philadelphia has housed 1,309 homeless veterans since 2013 and will be able to achieve “functional zero,” with only 12 homeless veterans having refused assistance when offered.
In addition to highlighting the efforts to end Veterans Homelessness, the Committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 38, introduced by Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) and Senate Bill 227, introduced by Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna). SB 38 would establish the Veterans’ Homeownership Assistance Program and SB 227 would establish the Veterans’ Housing Assistance Program.
Bill Fogharty, Director of Government Affairs of the he Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency stated that his agency is the lead finance organization for affordable homes and rental housing in the Commonwealth. On November 18 the agency will host a seminar, “Never Another Homeless Veteran,” to highlight these and other best practices that are occurring in the Commonwealth.
Liz Hersh, Executive Director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, thanked the General Assembly for passage of House Bill 792 – now Act 58 of 2015 – that expanded the Housing Trust Fund. The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 566, was sponsored by Senators Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) and Shirley Kitchen (D-Philadelphia).
Brigid Gallagher, Executive Director and Mental Health Director for the Philadelphia Veterans House testified that while there has been a great deal of success through the efforts at the federal, state and local levels, nonprofit agencies such as hers still need to raise funds in order to provide these needed services.
Senator Randy Vulakovich, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, noted that Pennsylvania has a strong military history and that Pennsylvanians have always answered the call to duty. “Today, Pennsylvania has over 930,000 veterans, ranking us fourth nationally,” said Senator Vulakovich. “I commend our state and local agencies for working together to stand by our veterans and I will do everything I can do to do right by them.”