Rep. Steny Hoyer of South Maryland toured a veterans center in Baltimore on Wednesday as city and federal leaders have renewed their focus on confronting veterans homelessness.
Hoyer, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House, visited with officials at the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training, a Jonestown facility that recently won a piece of a $48 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address homelessness.
"It's such a huge need," Hoyer told officials at the organization. "There are other reasons, obviously, which are equally traumatic to people...but I think the overwhelming number of veterans, particularly, who are homeless are homeless because of mental illness."
The facility, with 250 beds, offers wide ranging services to veterans, from medical and mental care to internet access. Roughly 30 percent of the center's $4 million annual budget comes from the federal government, executive director Jeffery L. Kendrick said. He noted that the organization hopes to soon provide housing for veterans' families, as well.
HUD counted 578,424 homeless people across America on a single night in 2014. In the past five years, the U.S. has reported an overall 10 percent decline in people experiencing homelessness and a 25 percent drop in those living on the streets, the agency said.
Hoyer also toured the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus with President Freeman A. Hrabowski on Wednesday, and met with officials at the University of Maryland Medical System.
The visit to the center came hours before an audit raised questions about enrollment data maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency has some 867,000 pending requests for care, but the audit found its record keeping so unreliably that it was impossible to determine how many applicants had died or otherwise were no longer seeking care.