How to house homeless veterans

Hank Hayes • May 14, 2018 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT – Four battle plans to end homelessness among military veterans were shared with about 80 housing professionals at the recent Tennessee Housing Conference held at the MeadowView Marriott.

How bad is the situation with homeless veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly nine percent being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Roughly 45 percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, according to the National Coalition on Homeless Veterans (NCHV).

“America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America,” NCHV notes. “Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.”

NCHV adds that about 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

How many homeless veterans are out there daily?

Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that about 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.

What were the strategies to combat veteran homelessness?

Buffalo Valley, Inc. President Deborah Hillin talked about the success of developing Patriot Place, a 36-unit apartment complex north of Nashville offering veterans support in addition to a place to live.

“We became a lead agency for a continuum of care,” Hillin said.

Home Depot volunteers did landscaping for the project. “Home Depot has a passion for serving veterans,” she claimed.

In Memphis, United Housing Executive Director Amy Schaftlein said the agency built single-family homes where veterans and TennCare recipients with disabilities could live while receiving care from partner organizations.

“It took a lot of diplomacy between the health (care organizations) and housing … there is a stigma of having group homes in neighborhoods,” she pointed out.

The Johnson City Housing Authority’s (JCHA) Baker Street development provides housing and coordinated services to veterans and youth aging out of foster care.

JCHA Executive Director Richard McClain said that prior to the development, the housing authority was using vouchers to help veterans with housing.

“The housing that was there was in very poor shape, the living condition the veteran was being placed in wasn’t what it should be,” McClain noted. “We needed to build some nice apartments that were accessible for veterans to have nice homes … one veteran we found was living under a bridge and suffering from cancer. We got him a home and got him treatment … he’s doing very well. It’s been a great opportunity to do this.”

When Chattanooga Mayor Andy Burke took office in 2014, he announced the city was going to end chronic veteran homelessness by the end of 2016, according to Tyler Yount, director of Special Projects for the city.

“(Burke) signed an executive order,” Yount said of Burke’s commitment.

Last year, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, HUD and the VA declared Chattanooga had effectively ended homelessness among veterans. That meant the city had developed the infrastructure and support to see veterans get in a home.

“Producing and maintaining affordable housing is a group effort,” said Ralph M. Perrey, Tennessee Housing Development Agency executive director. “Investing time learning together helps us all.”

After veterans find housing, Operation Stand Down Tennessee can help out. The Nashville-based organization is a registered 501(c)(3) that focuses on helping all veterans and their families by  offering a wide range of services, including employment assistance, VA benefits assistance, networking, housing, and more.

The conference was sponsored by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati and the Tennessee Affordable Housing Coalition.

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