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Patrick Springer, Published July 09 2011

Drop-in shelter part of national effort to curb homelessness among veterans

FARGO – Eric Shinseki, head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, visited the front lines Friday in his effort to end homelessness among veterans when he stopped by a new drop-in center.

Two years ago, Shinseki, a West Point graduate and former Army general, pledged to try to end homeless among veterans in five years.

The results so far: The number of homeless veterans on any given night has dropped from 131,000 to 76,000 today, with the number projected to decline to 60,000 next year, according to VA estimates.

Shinseki toured the new Gladys Ray Veterans Drop-In Center, located at 1519 1st Ave. S. in a residential neighborhood. It allows vets to stop by for respite from the weather, take a shower, do their laundry, have access to a meal, and receive referrals to other services.

“The trend is in the right direction,” said Shinseki. He made clear that more needs to be done in preventing homelessness and rescuing homeless veterans.

He called the Gladys Ray shelter innovative in its approach to ending homelessness, and said the VA has a valuable partnership with the city of Fargo in its shared goal.

“It’s a good relationship,” Shinseki said, adding the Veterans Administration pays for services the Gladys Ray Center provides. “It’s a good program for us.”

The agency has been working to improve access to services for veterans in rural and remote areas. The VA Medical Center in Fargo, for instance, now has nine outreach clinics in North Dakota and two in western Minnesota.

Shinseki, who was joined by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also visited the Fargo VA center.

“We have a great health care system here in Fargo,” the secretary said. Sadly, however, veterans remain at higher risk for homelessness, depression and substance abuse, he said. Combat veterans also are at high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and soft-brain injuries.

Hoeven said it was important for Shinseki, who met earlier with American Indian veterans in Bismarck, to see first-hand the needs of veterans.

“I think it really helps him understand the needs,” Hoeven said. “We’re a country that’s at war and we need to take care of our veterans.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522