The Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Act by Speaker John A. Pérez, which aims to help California veterans and their families get off the streets and into homes, unanimously passed a key Senate Committee yesterday, making it one step closer to passing the legislature. AB 639 focuses on providing housing for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless, as well as providing services to help them obtain and keep their homes, such as job training, underemployment assistance, mental health counseling, physical rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment.
“We are also seeing an increased number of younger veterans and women veterans and their families becoming homeless at rates faster than their Vietnam-era counterparts,” Speaker Pérez said. “Providing more supportive housing opportunities will help to reduce the number homeless veterans and also significantly decrease healthcare and public safety costs as many homeless veterans unfortunately get tangled in our jail system and disproportionately use our emergency rooms.”
The Act provides California’s voters with the opportunity to repurpose $600 million in existing veterans’ bond funds to respond more effectively to the housing needs of today’s veteran population and their families. More than $1 billion of voter-approved funds has been put aside for single family homes and farms, while the need for multifamily, transitional and supportive housing has greatly increased. AB 639 expands on proven and cost-effective supportive housing and service models that will reduce veterans’ homelessness, leverage public and private dollars, and decrease other public costs (e.g. health care and incarceration expenditures).
California has the largest veteran population in the US, with almost two million veterans calling California home-a number which is expected to rise by over 200,000 when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. California also has the most homeless veterans than any other state, with 25 percent of homeless veterans in the nation residing in the state. If AB 639 passes, California will be at the forefront of the country’s efforts to end veteran homelessness by 2015.
The next step for the bill is the Senate Appropriations Committee.