edlee_swornin.jpgDemocratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee attended a homeless veterans outreach event in the city today as part of a nationwide initiative to help raise awareness about the services available to them.

“There’s a saying on the battlefield: We leave no soldier behind,” Pelosi said. “And we say in Congress, when they come home, we leave no veteran behind.”

Lee echoed that sentiment, telling local veterans, “You’ve been here for us, now it’s our turn to be here for you.”

The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, which hosted today’s event in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, was presented with a check for $297,561 from the Department of Veterans Affairs to support the creation of 10 new beds there.

The beds will be available by the end of the year. The center, located at 1275 Harrison St., has 24 existing beds, according to Bobbie Rosenthal, the VA’s regional homeless coordinator.

Veterans have high rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide, officials said at the event.

“It’s a difficult situation it’s very easy to turn a blind eye to,” said Robert Jesse, the VA deputy undersecretary for health.

The average life expectancy of a homeless person is about three decades less than that of the average person, he said.

Jesse said federal, state and local partners “will continue to support those who have answered our nation’s call.”

He said the number of homeless veterans has dropped from about 130,000 in early 2009 to about 76,000 as of the VA’s most recent estimate.

The department’s aim is to get all homeless veterans off the streets by 2015, he said.

Pelosi said it is the efforts of local organizers, such as those at the Harbor Light Center and elsewhere, that are helping to reduce the number of homeless veterans.

“Your ideas–community-based, developed by vets themselves and those who care about them–are not only effective here but serve as a model for the rest of the country,” she said.

As part of the outreach program, people who are treating or helping the homeless are being encouraged to ask them whether they are veterans, and if so, to call the VA’s toll-free hotline at (877) 424-3838 to put them in touch with necessary services.

The VA provides housing, health care, job training, education and other services to veterans. More information about the department’s services is available at www.va.gov/homeless.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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