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Bill Would Give Public Housing Preference to Homeless Veterans

There are 1,500 homeless veterans in Pennsylvania at any given time, according to Senator Vince Hughes (D – Philadelphia).

That’s why he and other Democratic members of the Pennsylvania  Senate Appropriations Committee and representatives of various veterans groups are planning to meet Friday in Pittsburgh to discuss a bill that could help.

The legislation calls for a preference for homeless veterans, then to disabled veterans and then to families of deceased veterans for public housing.

“There are a number of veterans out there who are seeking housing and are finding it very difficult to find safe and affordable housing,” said Michele Margittai, director of resource development at the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania. “And so really bringing this issue to light and talking about possible solutions including using the resources of public housing as a way to house these men and women who have fought for our country, I think is a fantastic use of time.”

She said her organization sees a range of veterans that need help - from those who served in Vietnam to ones coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We consider one [homeless] veteran being too many, and therefore it is something that we in the community need to really act on and resolve these issues and make sure these men and women are housed and having engaged in productive lives in our community,” Margittai said.

The number of homeless veterans in the commonwealth has increased by 46.2 percent since 2009, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“Because of the troop drawdowns and the budget cutbacks and the number and the sheer volume of military service members who are leaving the service, we are in fact seeing an increase in the need for homeless men and women who have served,” Margittai said.

She said initiatives through the government and Veterans Affairs to end homelessness by 2015 have helped organizations such as the Veterans Leadership Program address the issue, but more needs to be done - and housing veterans is only the first step.

“We also know from the programs that we run often times once we can get them into safe and affordable housing, we can then start to address issues like getting them employed and eventually moving them out into self-sufficient and financially sustainable lives,” Margittai said.

The bill was referred to the Urban Affairs Committee July 1st of this year.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.
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