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Washington, D.C. Today, Representative Scott Peters (CA-50), along with Congressmembers Sara Jacobs (CA-53), Mike Levin (CA-49), and Juan Vargas (CA-52), sent a letter to Dr. Frank Pearson, Director and CEO of VA San Diego Healthcare System, to ask why hundreds of housing vouchers for homeless veterans have gone unused. According to a recent report by The San Diego Union-Tribune, of the 949 Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers received by the County of San Diego this year, 336 had gone unused as of early October.

The letter states, “To address veteran homelessness, we must ensure that no vouchers go unused.”

The letter asks Pearson to respond to several questions so that the Congress members can better understand the root causes of the problem as they work to craft solutions. Questions include whether the quality, location, and affordability of units prevent VA from referring enough veterans to fully use San Diego’s allotted housing vouchers and what recommendations local VA leaders have to further reduce veteran homelessness.

After seeing the Union-Tribune report, Terra Lawson-Remer, Vice-Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, reached out to Rep. Peters seeking his help in finding answers.

“We are doing everything possible to remove the barriers to housing for veterans, including connecting them to vouchers within a week, but when there was an issue, Rep. Peters immediately stepped up for San Diego County. He secured the support of his colleagues and their actions will help us get the response from Veteran Affairs that we need to improve the services we’re delivering to unhoused veterans,” said Supervisor Lawson-Remer, “I am thankful we have partners representing us in Washington, D.C., who understand the importance of the challenges we face at the local level and move urgently on our behalf.”

Full text of the letter here and below:

Dear Dr. Pearson,

As members of San Diego’s congressional delegation, we are writing to inquire about the Housing and Urban Development-Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. Established in 2008, the HUD-VASH program provides housing vouchers and case management services for veterans experiencing homelessness. This program is particularly important to San Diego County, which is home to over 250,000 veterans, one of the largest concentrations in the country.[1] However, the San Diego Union-Tribune recently reported that of the 949 HUD-VASH vouchers the County of San Diego received this year, 336 were unused as of early October.[2]

Data collected by San Diego County show that from August 2022 to July 2023, referrals from the VA San Diego Healthcare System (VASDHS) to the County of San Diego averaged approximately 13 per month. We recognize that VASDHS recently partnered with a non-profit organization, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), and that this partnership has led to a marked increase in referrals—36 per month in August, September, and October of 2023 on average. However, to address veteran homelessness, we must ensure that no vouchers go unused.

VA has made significant strides in reducing veteran homelessness in recent years. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of homeless veterans in San Diego decreased from 659 in 2018 to 317 in 2020, according to the Regional Task Force on Homelessness (RTFH).2 However, since the pandemic, homelessness among San Diego veterans  rose to 473, according to a 2023 RTFH survey, a 49% increase from 2020.2 In Congress, we are fighting to restore authorities granted to VA during the pandemic to increase transitional housing payments and provide homeless veterans with clothing, hygiene items, transportation, and more.

To better serve veterans in our region, we are requesting that VASDHS provide written responses to the following questions:

  1. VASDHS has stated that a major barrier to increasing referrals to the County is the region’s lack of quality, affordable units in desired locations.2 Please describe these issues in greater detail, including any challenges unique to the County compared to other public housing agencies in the region.
  2. How many homeless veterans in the region have applied for a HUD-VASH voucher but have not yet been issued one?
  3. Families issued a HUD-VASH voucher have at least 120 days to search for a housing unit before the voucher expires. Please describe how this time limit affects HUD-VASH voucher utilization, and whether VASDHS has worked with local public housing agencies to pursue potential for flexibility in the amount of time before a voucher expires.
  4. What is the average amount of time between a veteran receiving a HUD-VASH housing voucher and securing housing in San Diego County?
  5. What recommendations do local VA leadership have to continue the region’s progress in further reducing veteran homelessness?

Thank you for your ongoing work to better the lives of San Diego’s veterans, including those who struggle with homelessness. We look forward to hearing from you and working on a path towards achieving our goal of functional zero.

1 “VA San Diego and County Fight Veteran Homelessness,” 7 July 2023. 

2  Nelson, Blake, “San Diego County gets housing vouchers just for homeless veterans. Hundreds aren’t being used,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, 11 November 2023.

3 “Housing Choice Voucher Program Guidebook—HUD-VASH Vouchers,” July 2021.