April 12, 2012

In-Vet-Ments

Written by:

HUD Region 10 Public Affairs

Soldiers in combat don’t have much time to worry about having a roof over their heads.  But it’s back on the agenda once they return home.

Turns out, though, that a lot of veterans have a hard time finding one.  Every two years in the dead of winter thousands of local organizations and governments providing services to the homeless using, in part, funding from HUD conduct a one-night, “point-in-time” count of the number of homeless individuals and families in shelters and living on the streets in more than 3,000 American cities and towns.

In a report to Congress last December, HUD said the January, 2011 “point-in-time” found 67,495 homeless veterans in the 50 states. Some 27,462 – or almost 45 percent – were sleeping in doorways, beneath highway overpasses or in cars.  The good news  was that from January, 2010 to January, 2011 the number of homeless veterans had dropped 12 percent.

But there is more work to do. As HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan has said  “It’s a national disgrace that one out of every six men and women in our shelters once wore a uniform to serve our country.”

It’s why President Obama has sought and, thanks to the leadership of Senator Patty Murray, the Congress has provided funding for a program – the HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program or HUD VASH – to expand the housing assistance provided to vets.

Under the program, HUD awards VASH vouchers to local housing authorities that work with local VA medical centers and clinics to identify eligible vets in VA case management programs to use them to rent privately-owned housing for which, generally, they do not have to pay more than 30 percent of their income for tent.

A few weeks ago, HUD announced the award of yet more VASH vouchers, including 610 more to provide housing vouchers to vets in Alaska Idaho, Oregon and Washington.  Since the program was launched in 2008, HUD’s awarded a total of 2,893 VASH vouchers in the four states.

Darren Spencer, 39 and a six-year veteran of the U.S. Army, is one of those to receive a VASH voucher from the Tacoma Housing Authority.  In the years since he got out of the service, life’s been tough.  Job-wise, he recently told Rob Hotakainen of the McClatchy News Service and Tacoma News Tribune, “from a steamboat to a billy goat, I’ve done it all.”  He’s worked in a foundry, in a warehouse, in a radio station and, most recently, as furniture mover, a job he lost a year ago.

And that’s when he got in real trouble.  No job, no car, no way to pay rent for him and his son.  “No matter how much I tried,” he explained, “every two steps I would go forward there would be five steps taking me back,” he said. “It just seemed like somebody had their foot on my neck and I could not get up.”

Thanks to a VASH voucher he got last August, now he’s got a shot.   Without it, reported Hotakainen, “Spencer has “no doubt” he would have been homeless again.  “It’s been a big load off of my shoulders,” Spencer said. “And it just feels good to be able to say I have a place to stay, and my kid has a place to lay his head.”

Read Rob Hotakainen’s full story here.

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