Help on the Way to House Vets

The vouchers are expected to be available by late July. This will be the first time they have been distributed in Vancouver in several years.

In all, 10 housing authorities in Washington will receive vouchers worth a total of $3 million. The program, funded at $75 million nationally, is a joint project of the federal Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs.

"Each one of these vouchers means a year's rent for someone who has sacrificed for our nation but is now sleeping on our streets," Murray said in a statement. "With new service members returning home every day and the economy sputtering, we must step up our efforts to provide all veterans with housing and the dignity that comes with it. For too long, homeless veterans have been forgotten heroes."

The voucher program will be a three-way partnership. The Vancouver Housing Authority will administer the vouchers. The Department of Veterans Affairs will refer people to the program and provide case management. The Clark County Council on the Homeless and other nonprofit groups will help veterans find landlords willing to rent to them.

LaVon Holder, deputy director of the housing authority, said administering the program will be a challenge, but a welcome one.

"We will work through how to make it work well in the community," she said. "It is a resource that is desperately needed."

"We'll probably help with outreach, and with finding reasonably priced apartments for people to live in," said Homeless Council director Craig Lyons. "It can be a problem. Sometimes (veterans) have barriers, like evictions on their records, or arrests. Landlords don't like to rent to people who have those kinds of backgrounds."

The VA estimates that 200,000 veterans are homeless nationwide. Current numbers for the region aren't available, but in 2007, an estimated 6,800 homeless veterans lived in Washington state, and 1,900 lived in the Portland-Vancouver area.

Nationwide, nearly half of today's homeless veterans served in Vietnam. Many struggled for decades with drug addiction or post-traumatic stress disorders before finding themselves on the streets.

Now veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are returning home, and the advocacy group Swords to Plowshares says many are seeking emergency housing. The organization has called on the Obama administration to increase the number of supportive housing beds for homeless vets and to change the payment formula to reflect the actual cost of providing beds, meals, counseling and support.

Clark County does have temporary housing for homeless vets on the VA Medical Center Campus, both in a short-term transitional housing unit and at Central Park Place, a 124-unit single-room occupancy apartment house operated by the housing authority, where about half the units are occupied by veterans.

But the need outstrips the supply.

Lyons said he met a homeless veteran just Friday morning, at a Vancouver bus stop.

"He was waiting on hip and knee replacement surgery from the VA and he was three weeks out on the waiting list" for the temporary living unit, Lyons said.

With the new voucher program, "Hopefully, we'll have no homeless veterans on the streets," he said.

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