BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts officials unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday that they say will virtually end homelessness among military veterans over the next three years.
Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray detailed the proposal during a visit to the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston.
Murray said the state wants to reduce the number of homeless veterans in Massachusetts by 1,000 by the end of 2015.
An annual one-night count of the homeless in Massachusetts in 2011 found 1,268 homeless veterans, about 7.6 percent of the state's total homeless population. About 450 of those met the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's definition of chronically homeless.
"I am proud that Massachusetts will become one of only a few states to outline a comprehensive action plan to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home," Murray said.
Murray said the plan will look at the needs of all men and women who served in the military, regardless of their discharge status. The state will work on getting homeless veterans into stable housing; making sure those most at risk of chronic homelessness remain in housing; ramping up access to benefits; and making sure state, federal and local resources are coordinated.
Murray said the state plans to make 1,000 units of permanent housing available to homeless veterans over the next three years. Those include 700 new federal housing vouchers and 300 new and existing units of housing through the state Department of Housing and Community Development for homeless veterans not eligible for assistance from the Veterans Administration.
The plan also calls for the development of regional lists of homeless veterans to help the state track the progress of individuals. Officials say the lists will help them better understand the plight of newly homeless veterans and how to better provide care for them.
"No one who has ever worn the uniform of this great nation should struggle to find a roof over their head," said Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services Secretary Coleman Nee.
Officials said the state is using existing resources to pay for the program.
The current state budget already includes $4.4 million for homeless and outreach services to nonprofit groups that serve veterans and $2.2 million for the New England Center for Homeless Veterans.
Department of Veterans' Services also currently receives $1.7 million in federal dollars from the Veterans Administration to run a program designed to speed the housing process for homeless veterans. The program offers veteran-to-veteran peer support programs, mental health services, psychiatric evaluation and easier access to emergency shelter for chronically homeless veterans.
Since January 2011, officials said, the program has located housing for 48 chronically homeless veterans out of the initial 50 pilot vouchers.