The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported earlier this year that Maine has more than 140 homeless veterans. This number is unacceptable. As Mainers and as Americans, we have a shared commitment to ensure that those who lay their lives on the line for our safety are able to return to a home, and not the streets.
Currently, many homeless veterans are not connected to the vital housing and supportive services that they need. Despite their best efforts, the VA reaches only 33 percent of those veterans in need and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) and their community-based organizations reach only 35 percent. The inability to reach these critical housing and supportive services programs leaves many Americans, and many veterans, unable to make ends meet.
In order to remedy this injustice, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Homes for Heroes Act on June 16th. This bill, which I introduced with Congressman Al Green of Texas, provides tangible solutions so that veterans can get off the streets and into sustainable housing. More specifically, the bill creates an administrative structure for veterans' housing within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), greatly expands HUD-VA Supportive Housing programs, introduces additional permanent housing opportunities for low-income veterans and their families, and enforces comprehensive oversight of veterans' housing. Additionally, the bill excludes veterans' benefits from HUD income calculations that determine eligibility for supportive housing. This legislation provides our government and our communities with the tools they need to provide our veterans with the housing that they deserve.
I look forward to the day when we will be able to say that we have put the challenge of veteran homelessness behind us. But in order for us to get there, we must pass this legislation into law.
Now that the House has passed the bill, it has been transmitted to the Senate, where it is currently waiting to be considered by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. In 2008, the Homes for Heroes Act passed the House, but it died in the Senate committee. This year needs to be different. I strongly urge the Senate to pass the Homes for Heroes Act so that the legislation can begin to work for Maine's veterans as soon as possible.
In the meantime, I want to offer any Maine veteran who needs assistance some important information. Each VA Medical Center in the country has a homeless veteran coordinator who veterans can contact for services and help. Maine's homeless veteran coordinator at Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta can be reached by calling (207) 623-8411, extension 4344. Veterans needing help can also call the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans at 1-800-VET-HELP or visit their website to locate where assistance is available: www.nchv.org/wheretogo.cfm. And, as always, those looking for help can always contact one of my offices. We will do all that we can to ensure that you get the help you need.