Housing the 99 and beyond

There’s a shared responsibility in ending homelessness for all, but the duty is felt more sharply when those without housing are veterans of U.S. military service.

As of January 2014, nearly 50,000 homeless veterans were counted during community Point In Time surveys across the country, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. More than half, 54 percent, suffer from mental or physical disabilities. The large majority, 91 percent, are men, but female veterans are four times as likely to experience homelessness as are men who served.

In the past, a variety of governmental agencies, charities and organizations in Snohomish County addressed the problem separately until a call in 2010 from then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to end veteran homelessness in five years. That deadline wasn’t met, but the numbers of homeless veterans has been reduced, particularly in Snohomish County where agencies and organizations have coordinated their efforts in recent years.

Housing the 99, named for the 99 veterans counted during the county’s 2013 Point in Time survey, brought together those groups and pledged to find housing for vets before the end of that year. The effort found success, said Jerry Gadek, a veterans service officer for Snohomish County Department of Human Services, and housing was found for 112 veteran “households” — which can include couples and families.

The trend since then has been encouraging, as Gadek reported last week during a joint meeting of the agencies and groups involved with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington.

The 2014 count reported 71 veterans in need of housing. By the end of that year, 87 were housed. The number of homeless vets slipped to 67 in the 2015 count, and 97 found secure housing. During this year’s Point in Time count, 45 veteran households (42 individuals and three couples), were homeless. And work continues to identify homeless vets beyond those counted and secure housing for all.

The groups involved include government agencies such as the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, which can offer housing vouchers; the Housing Authority of Snohomish County; Worksource; Workforce Snohomish; state Department of Corrections; the Navy’s Fleet and Family Support program; and agencies and organizations such as Community Health Center, Therapeutic Health Services, Catholic Community Services, YWCA, Salvation Army and military service groups, such as the VFW.

Each can address the problem from its own capabilities, Gadek said. Support can be offered to help find work, restore a driver’s license, qualify for vouchers, clear up outstanding debts, work with landlords and connect with treatment for chemical dependency and mental health issues, both before and after housing is secured.

While there is coordination among them, Gadek said, none has given up its own authority to act when needed.

“What works for vets is to identify the problem, validate the problem and solve the problem. We don’t need four months and 16 subcommittees to do it,” he said.

Challenges remain. Some veterans, those who are dishonorably discharged, are not eligible for housing vouchers. Help is available to challenge those discharges and restore eligibility for vouchers, Gadek said, but the onus now is on the veteran to disprove the finding. Larsen told the group about legislation in Congress that would review whether post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury should have been considered in the discharge, potentially lifting another barrier to housing.

Housing the 99 already is serving as an example for other communities. Gadek and Cammy Hart-Anderson, a division manager for chemical dependency, mental health and veterans services with the county, recently attended a national forum of representatives of the VA and Housing and Urban Development; the committee’s work was recognized as a “best practice” for addressing homelessness among veterans.

Efforts like Housing the 99 and Everett’s Streets Initiative are making progress in ending homelessness. The successes thus far have earned those efforts our recognition and continued support.

It’s a debt owed to veterans for the sacrifices they have made for their country.

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