Michigan’s two Democratic U.S. Senators have announced a federal allocation of $235,635 in West Michigan to provide assistance to help end veteran homelessness.
The assistance is through a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program.
“Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line to defend our country, and we must ensure they have our full support when they return home and begin the transition back to civilian life,” said Sen. Gary Peters, a former officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
“On any given night, there are nearly 50,000 veterans across the country without a roof over their heads. This investment provides much needed assistance to help homeless veterans in West Michigan find a permanent place to call home, and helps keep our promise to support our service members, veterans and their families.”
“America’s veterans put their lives on the line for the safety of this country and its citizens," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow. “This support will help get our heroes off the streets and into permanent homes.”
The HUD-VASH program combines rental assistance vouchers from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by the V.A. to help homeless veterans find and keep permanent housing. V.A. medical centers are responsible for assessing homeless veterans and referring them to local housing agencies for vouchers. Vouchers are awarded based on an individual’s duration of homelessness and need for long-term support to maintain permanent housing.
The state of Michigan is receiving a total allotment of $1.6 million for the HUD-VASH program, which includes the $235,635 earmarked for West Michigan organizations including: Battle Creek Housing Commission and Battle Creek V.A. Medical Center, $50,143; Muskegon Housing Commission and Battle Creek V.A. Medical Center/Muskegon Outpatient Clinic, $47,220; and Kent County Housing Commission and Battle Creek V.A. Medical Center/Grand Rapids Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, $138,272.
According to the statement from Peters’ office in Washington, he recently signed a bipartisan letter calling for continued funding for the Supporting Services for Veteran Families Program and the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program that work to end veteran homelessness.
He also recently toured the Volunteers of America in Lansing where he saw firsthand the work the VOA is doing to support Michigan’s veterans and combat veteran homelessness. Through transitional housing, case management and employment help, the VOA works to prevent low-income veterans and their families from falling into homelessness.
Stabenow’s office said she is committed to making sure veterans have the care and resources they need. For years, Stabenow has worked to bring more V.A. clinics to Michigan so veterans don’t have to drive hundreds of miles to receive medical treatment. She also has championed the issue of veterans' employment, including in her 2014 Farm Bill, which includes support for military veterans who are new to farming and ranching.
In Kent County, the county Housing Commission and Community Development offices will administer the increased financial assistance for homeless veterans. Linda Likely, director of the joint department, said it now has 153 vouchers designated for veterans who need help to avoid homelessness.
A voucher is equivalent to about $650 in monthly rental assistance toward a one-bedroom unit. The program also can cover a veteran’s family dependents if there are any, and the monthly amount increases in proportion to any increases in the size of the family. The rental assistance lasts the veteran’s lifetime unless he or she experiences an increase in income that exceeds levels that qualify for the program.
Darrell Singleton, manager of the Housing Commission-Community Development, said county officials have calculated there are about 7,300 chronically homeless and transitional homeless veterans in Kent County. He said transitional homelessness is defined as going in and out of homelessness, including someone who stays temporarily with friends or relatives.
Singleton said Kent County has the second-largest concentration of homeless veterans in Michigan.
“We have the second-largest deployment area in the state of Michigan,” said Singleton. He added that many military personnel who are called up for active duty from National Guard facilities in Kent County tend to return to this area to stay following their discharge from military service.
Singleton said the youngest homeless veterans served are in their 20s, while the oldest are veterans of the Vietnam War.
He said the single-largest challenge to helping homeless veterans is the availability of vacant housing units ready for them. Another major challenge for some veterans is a past history of evictions and home foreclosures.
Singleton said veterans of military service have been found who did not realize they qualify for the rental assistance program because they had not served in a warzone and they thought that was required before qualifying for veterans services.
Kent County also has its greatly expanded Veterans Affairs Department, now funded at about $1.3 million a year in large part by a millage referendum approved last year by voters that raises slightly more than $1 million each year through 2021.
The county Veterans Affairs Department is an entirely different program, according to Likely.
“There is not a duplication of services,” she said, but rather firm collaboration between the two county entities serving military veterans. The Veterans Affairs Department has an expanded staff to connect veterans with the scores of specialized benefits available to them from both the state and federal governments, and Likely said homeless veterans served by her staff are also referred to the Veterans Affairs Department to ensure they are not missing any services they might need.