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Major Hurdles Remain To End Veteran Homelessness

â¿¿Billions more in federal money.

â¿¿More improvements and long-term commitment to programs aimed at the root issues that land people on the streets â¿¿ mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment, poverty.

"It's baloney to say it will end in 2015," said Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project, which has helped the homeless in San Diego for decades. "This needs to be a priority for decades to come."

Others are keeping their fingers crossed.

"It can happen," said Steve Berg of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. He believes the effort on veterans could "lead the way" in showing what can be done about overall homelessness, which is more prevalent since the 1970s because of the loss of affordable housing, changes in mental hospital admissions and the decriminalization of crimes such as public drunkenness and vagrancy.

Of the country's 22 million veterans, an estimated 75,609 were homeless in 2009 when Shinseki announced the campaign. Veterans make up 14 percent of the U.S. homeless population.

"I learned long ago that there are never any absolutes in life, and a goal of zero homeless veterans sure sounds like an absolute," Shinseki said in a November 2009 speech announcing the effort. "But unless we set ambitious targets for ourselves, we would not be giving this our very best efforts."

The number of homeless veterans dropped 12 percent between 2010 and 2011 to 67,497. It's expected to fall below 60,000 when this year's count is released in the coming weeks, Shinseki says.

Rare bipartisanship in Washington is part of the reason. Political consensus among lawmakers and in the administration to do everything possible for troops and veterans has meant a huge increase in the budget for VA health care and other services to the homeless, from $3.6 billion in the 2010 budget year to the proposed $5.8 billion for 2013.

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