(WASHINGTON) — Army veteran Tony Jones has been homeless for nearly a decade, living in a tent in a small patch of wilderness in Southeast Washington, DC.
“If it wasn’t for basic training, I wouldn’t even be able to do this stuff here, because that’s how I learned how to do the trenching around the tent,” Jones told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl.
Unfortunately, Jones’s situation is not unique. Veteran homelessness is a problem the President and First Lady hoped to end in 2015.
“The good news is we’ve helped get thousands of homeless veterans off the streets,” President Obama said to an audience of military veterans in August 2014. “We should have zero tolerance for that.”
He was echoing comments made by First Lady Michelle Obama just two months earlier.
“They aren’t just going to address veteran’s homelessness in their cities and states,” the First Lady said, in announcing that 77 cities had signed on to her Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.
“They’re going to end it, and they’re going to do it by the end of 2015. That is an audacious goal.”
Although the number of homeless veterans has dropped dramatically since its high of more than 74,000 in 2010, figures released in November by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show that there are still nearly 48,000 U.S. veterans living on the streets.
But in cities that have taken the president’s challenge seriously, major strides have been made.
Washington, DC is one such city. In August 2013 Miriam’s Kitchen, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending homelessness, counted 1,489 homeless veterans in the nation’s capital. As 2015 comes to a close, there are only about 200 homeless veterans remaining in the city.
Local organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen have helped veterans apply for and receive the benefits to which they are entitled – including access to a Veteran’s Administration program that provides vouchers to pay for their rent.
Emily Buzzell, a caseworker at Miriam’s Kitchen, helped Jones navigate the process of receiving a Veterans Administration voucher which will pay his rent, allowing him to finally move off the streets.
Just before Christmas, Jones’s apartment was ready, and ABC News visited him on the very day he moved from a tent in the woods into an apartment.
“I can’t even express in words how I feel right now. I just know I feel, I feel great,” Jones said. “I feel good. I feel like James Brown, I feel good! AOWWW!”
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