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Voucher program pushes to shelter veterans


County increases housing vouchers for homeless servicemen

Washington County has secured more than $200,000 to provide permanent housing to a population especially prone to homelessness: military veterans.

Through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the county expects to distribute an additional 35 vouchers in a program similar to government programs like Section 8 housing assistance, explained Adolph Valfre, executive director of the Housing Authority of Washington County.

Veterans are expected to contribute no more than 30 percent of income to housing costs, but vouchers cover up to 100 percent of rent and utility costs for veterans who have no income.

Back home, at risk

Although less than 1 percent of the U.S. population is enlisted as active duty military, military veterans have an inordinate representation among the adult homeless population nationwide: about 13 percent, according to a recent Point in Time Homeless Count.

It is a population that is also at greater risk of being chronically homeless.

January’s Point in Time homeless count identified 106 homeless veterans in Washington County, with 63 in some kind of shelter or safe haven housing arrangement, 15 identified as “doubling up” households and another 28 living on the streets or seeking shelter in structures not intended as housing.

A 2012 study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General found that 3.7 percent of military veterans are homeless within five years of military discharge, and that about 50 percent of homeless veterans are diagnosed with substance abuse issues, mental illness or both — a rate that is twice that of the civilian population.

As Valfre points out, readjustment often proves a hurdle for veterans returning from active duty.

“It’s difficult to adjust if you’ve been traumatized in war,” Valfre said. “You may have trouble concentrating or doing a task, it’s also a difficulty to come back if you’ve been driving a tank all these four years. You think, What do I do when I come back?”

But difficulty with readjustment complicates more than employment prospects, Valfre said.

“Sometimes a person comes back and the marriage goes sour, and that becomes a broken family, possibly without any money coming, and then there’s a good opportunity for homelessness to occur,” he explained.

Locally as nationally, men account for the majority of homeless veterans, comprising 92 percent of the population. Of the 106 families recorded during January’s count, 7.5 percent of homeless veteran households included children.

Anonymous and out of reach

As the county seeks to reach this particular subset of the homeless population, it faces a significant barrier: Many veterans are reluctant to identify themselves as such.

“Some folks just had a bad experience with the military, and they don’t want the regulation,” Valfre, himself a veteran, explained. “Some folks just want to escape from it all, and don’t want to identify themselves. Some folks have bad experiences, they maybe have gone to the VA for services and found that it was too bureaucratic.”

Vietnam veterans in particular seem loathe to identify themselves, Valfre added, due to complex factors like a negative reception when they returned from what is widely considered an unpopular war.

Still, there have been notable successes with a 2009 VA initiative to end homelessness by 2015, largely due to increased funding to the VASH voucher program nationwide: According to the 2012 nationwide Point In Time Homeless Count, the number of homeless veterans decreased from 75,609 in 2009 to 62,619 in 2012, or from 16 percent to 13 percent of the entire adult homeless population.

Washington County last received VASH funding in 2010, enabling it to distribute 25 housing vouchers, rehousing three homeless veterans in

Tigard and eight in Beaverton.

Processing need

For veterans, the VASH voucher program is more than a placement program: it’s a facet of collaboration between agencies like the Washington County Department of Aging and Veterans Services, the Salvation Army Veterans & Family Center in Beaverton and Washington County Community Action as well as Worksystems and the Oregon Employment Department.

“When a vet comes to us, we refer them to the VA, to the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Hillsboro,” Valfre said. “There, they get evaluated by VA specialists, not just for housing but for any other benefits they qualify for. Those that do qualify as chronically homeless are then referred back to us” for consideration in the VASH voucher program.

Should VASH funding end, veterans’ benefits would be provided under Section 8 housing assistance, and veterans would not be displaced, Valfre said.

Like Section 8, VASH is a “landlord-based program,” Valfre said, leaving it up to individual landlords’ discretion whether to accept a tenant who is part of the program.

And often, involvement with the VA proves an endorsement for applicants, Valfre said.

“This veteran has folks from the VA who are going to be looking over his welfare,” Valfre explained. “It’s nice to know he’s not there by himself, he’s got a network of services that are lined up for him.”