Honorable David B. McKinley
Chairwoman Buerkle, Ranking Member Michaud and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for holding this legislative hearing today on important issues that affect our nation’s veterans. I appreciate the opportunity to give remarks on my bill, H.R. 4079, the Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act.
Currently, there are over 2,100 community-based homeless veteran service providers across the country and many other homeless assistance programs that have demonstrated impressive success reaching homeless veterans. I have visited some of the shelters in my home district in West Virginia and was struck by how many seemed to not be in compliance with state, local or federal safety codes.
After seeing these conditions with my own eyes, we began to investigate whether this is something that is isolated or more instances are occurring. It was unsettling to learn in our research about shelter fires where lives were lost. For instance, in 2009, an East Texas homeless shelter fire where five occupants were killed was found to not have a required sprinkler system and an instance in New York City just this past year where two dozen people were injured because the sprinkler system was not working properly and the exits were blocked. I would like to enter news articles about these fires and an additional three articles regarding other instances of code violations into the record.
Unfortunately there is no law mandating VA homeless shelters meet code; there is only a policy in place. As a licensed professional engineer, I found this to be an egregious omission in the law governing VA homeless program funds. H.R. 4079 would require any organization that seeks funding from VA for services to homeless veterans to have documentation that their building meets or exceeds all Life Safety Codes. This legislation also requires VA to give priority to shelters that need financial assistance from VA for improvements to ensure that the facility is in compliance with all the safety codes.
I am disappointed that VA has chosen to not support H.R. 4079, a bill that would codify what they already have as a policy. This is common sense legislation that would ensure the wellbeing of veterans who have fallen on hard times and are in the most need of assistance; and in extension these same veterans are turning to society to assure them of safe, reliable housing.
As a nation, it should be unacceptable for us to allow homeless veterans be housed in potentially unsafe conditions. In defense of our country, these men and women were put in harm’s; they should not be in doubt about their own safety now that they are home again. These homeless veterans are experiencing a difficult phase of their lives and should be able to trust that they will be safe each night as they continue their return to being productive members of society.
I appreciate the testimony in support of H.R. 4079 from other witnesses testifying here today and I thank you for your concern for the safety and living environment of our veterans.