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Clients who are homeless or housing insecure can come, take a 15-minute shower and access any of the other services the staff provides, including basic medical care and case management, said Laura Jaworski, executive director of House of Hope.
People use the service to take a shower and get a haircut before a job interview, clean up after sleeping on the street or enjoy a much-needed moment of peace and privacy, she said.
The number of people Shower to Empower serves has grown consistently since the program started on April 18 and spiked during the recent heat wave.
In April and May combined, clients took 141 showers, according to Jarowski. In June, clients took 117 showers and in July, clients took 164 showers. So far in August, clients have showered 96 times.
On Wednesday, Shower to Empower offered its 500th shower since its start. By the end of the day, it had reached 518, according to Jarowski.
Isabelle Doloiras, 39, said she was starting to feel sick in the heat as she looked for a place to fill a plastic gallon jug with water. A few minutes later, a staff member called her name and told her it was her turn to shower.
Kasandra, who sat on the curb far from the other clients and colored in a coloring book while she waited her turn, said she’s been homeless for eight years. People should remember that homelessness can happen to anyone, she said. In September, she’s scheduled to start classes at the Community College of Rhode Island, but she said it will be difficult with all of the challenges in her life.
“You lose your motivation, your will to want to do anything because you just feel like you’re worthless,” she said.
But something as simple as access to a shower can make a positive difference in someone’s life, Jaworski said.
“It’s a very humanizing process to bathe yourself,” she said. “When we offer just that at the base level, it’s incredibly powerful.”
On Twitter: @madeleine_list
Courtesy of Providence Journal
Updated Nov 11, 2018 at 10:28 PM
U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report released on Nov. 1 found that the total number of reported veterans as homeless in 2018 decreased 5.4 percent since last year and fell to nearly half the number of homeless veterans reported in 2010.
Veteran homelessness in the U.S. continues to decline, according to a national estimate.
In announcing the latest annual estimate, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said that communities are reporting fewer veterans in their shelters and on their streets. Exhibit 1.7 of the report shows that, among all states, Rhode Island is listed in the top 10, with 1,180 homeless and 69 unsheltered. See the entire report online at bit.ly/2kthLvp.
Each year, thousands of communities around the country conduct one-night “Point-in-Time” estimates of the number of people in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and unsheltered locations. This year’s estimate finds that 37,878 veterans were homeless in January 2018, compared with 40,020 reported in January 2017. HUD estimates that among the total number of reported homeless veterans in 2018, 23,312 were found in sheltered settings while volunteers counted 14,566 veterans living in places not meant for human habitation.
HUD also reports a nearly 10 percent decline among female veterans experiencing homelessness. In January 2018, communities reported 3,219 homeless female veterans, compared with 3,571 one year earlier.
The decrease in veteran homelessness can largely be attributed to the effectiveness of the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, which combines permanent HUD rental assistance with case management and clinical services from the VA. HUD-VASH is complemented by VA programs that use modern tools and technology to identify the most vulnerable veterans and rapidly connect them to the appropriate interventions to become and remain stably housed.
Last year alone, more than 4,000 veterans, many experiencing chronic homelessness, found permanent housing and critically needed support services through the HUD-VASH program. An additional 50,000 veterans found permanent housing and supportive services through VA’s homeless programs.
HUD and VA have a wide range of programs that prevent and end homelessness among veterans, including health care, housing solutions, job training and education. More information about the VA’s homeless programs is available at www.VA.gov/homeless.
Veterans who are homeless or are at imminent risk of becoming homeless should contact the Providence VA Medical Center online at www.providence.va.gov/services/homeless/index.asp or call (401) 273-7100 and ask to speak to a homeless coordinator. You can also call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 4AID-VET. More information about HUD is available at www.hud.gov.
Items of interest
— The Providence VA Medical Center and the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Providence Regional Office are hosting a joint veterans’ town hall meeting from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16, at the Providence VAMC, fifth-floor auditorium, main building, 830 Chalkstone Ave.
Benefits updates and a Q-and-A session will be held.
— The Lincoln Knights of Columbus will honor the service of veterans and first responders to the country and communities with a free breakfast on Saturday, Nov. 17, from 8 to 11 a.m., at the Columbus Club of Lincoln, at 171 Jenckes Hill Rd. They will also collect new items to support Operation ROVAC (Remembering Our Veterans at Christmas), which will be given to the men and women residents of the Bristol Rhode Island Veterans Home. Men’s and women’s clothing, winter hats, gloves, scarves, shoes, slippers and handkerchiefs are needed. Books and food are not needed, but there is a definite need for large-print word search books, DVD movies, music CDs, greeting cards, print magnifiers with lights, large-size toiletries, Dove and Irish Spring soap, stick deodorant, shaving cream, cologne and perfume.
— To assist veterans in navigating benefits and other services available to them, the Woonsocket Harris Public Library, 303 Clinton St., will host three informational sessions, from 10 to 11 a.m. on Nov. 17, Dec. 15 and Jan. 12, all Saturdays, in the library’s main program room. Tim McGorty, Woonsocket Veterans Service adviser, will answer questions and assist veterans with the benefits process. For more information, call McGorty at (401) 830-2599 or email him at email@example.com.
— Veterans of Foreign Wars: Gatchell Post 306 Auxiliary, 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, 171 Fountain St., Pawtucket; Post 916, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, 155 High St., South Kingstown; Lymansville Memorial Post 10011, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, 354 Fruit Hill Ave., North Providence; Kelley-Gazzerro Post 2812, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, 1418 Plainfield St., Cranston.
— Vietnam Veterans of America Greater Providence Chapter 273, 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, Kelley-Gazzerro VFW Post 2812, 1418 Plainfield St., Cranston.
— Korean War Veterans Association Northern R.I. Chapter 3, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, Glocester Senior Center, 1210 Putnam Pike, Chepachet.
— U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary: Flotilla 72, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, USCG Sector Southeastern New England office, 20 Risho Ave., East Providence; Providence Flotilla 78, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, Aspray Boathouse, 2 East View St., Warwick.
— U.S. Submarine Veterans Rhode Island Base, 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, R.I. Aviation Hall of Fame building, 6854 Post Rd., North Kingstown, and all submariners are welcome.
— U.S. Navy Seabee Veterans of America Island X-1 Davisville, 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, Seabee Museum, 21 Iafrate Way, North Kingstown.
— Fleet Reserve Branch 42, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, Seabee Museum, 21 Iafrate Way, North Kingstown.
— Jewish War Veterans of the USA Post 23, 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, Tamarisk Assisted Living Community, 3 Shalom Drive, Warwick, business meeting; for more information call Steven Musen at (401) 463-5159 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— American Legion Smithfield’s Balfour-Cole Post 64, Christmas party, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, 170 Pleasant View Ave.
Send veterans’ meeting and news items to George W. Reilly at VeteransColumn@gmail.com.
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at 10:26 PM
Updated Jan 5, 2018 at 10:26 PM
On Friday nights Megan Smith walks through downtown Providence looking for people who may be struggling with homelessness, addiction, poverty — or some combination of the three — to connect with.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Inside the bus station in Kennedy Plaza, Megan Smith held a grocery bag stuffed with gloves and hats. In her pocket, a stack of bus tickets and Narcan.
“The essentials of life,” she mused. “Or of some life.”
Smith works as a project manager at House of Hope, a Warwick-based outreach center for the homeless. On Friday nights, she walks through downtown Providence looking for people who may be struggling with homelessness, addiction, poverty — or some combination of the three — to connect with.
“The root of it is nonjudgmental listening, bearing witness and from that trying to tackle things at the micro and macro level,” Smith said, snow crunching beneath her boots.
But this Friday was different. With 20-mph winds barreling down Broad Street, she braced against the icy temperatures in an attempt to persuade people to go inside. Or at least accept a pair of ski gloves.
“This is the kind of night where if someone doesn’t have a safe place to be, everything else is moot,” she said. “Because they might not get a tomorrow. It’s that cold out here.”
She plodded down Broad Street with interns Sara Melucci and Andy O’Dell, checking stairways and around corners for people. It seemed the extreme cold, 12 below zero with the windchill, had driven most indoors. But not all.
Robert Souza stood in a thin coat outside the 7-Eleven on Dorrance Street, his arms wrapped around himself.
“Could any of you spare change for a bus ticket,” he asked. Smith launched into action. She procured a pair of gloves and helped Souza put them on his hands. And then handed him a bus pass, so he could get back to Riverside, where he had a place to stay.
“Oh sweetness,” he said as he slipped on the gloves. “Oh thank you. I can’t thank you enough.”
With a quick smile, Smith continued to the bus station. Inside the terminal was a swirl of chaos. Some people were trying to catch buses, some buying time in the heated station.
Mark Rossignol fell into the latter category. From her years as a caseworker, Smith recognizes nearly every straggler left in the terminal or on the street outside. But Rossignol was a new face. She sensed he needed help because of the giant backpack parked next to him.
“Good evening, sir,” she said as she approached and introduced herself. Rossignol smiled wide when presented with gloves.
“Thank you so much,” he said, while having difficulty moving his frozen hands. “It’s so painful, the cold. I can’t thank you enough.”
Rossignol shared his story — he was born in Massachusetts, and lived in Rhode Island as a child when his father, who was in the Navy, was stationed in Newport. Forty years ago, the family moved to Florida.
After a separation from his wife a few weeks ago, Rossignol said he decided to “come home.” He was met with the coldest weather he’s ever experienced.
Hesitant to go to Crossroads Rhode Island, he was waiting for a break in the weather that likely won’t reach Rhode Island until Monday. Nights at a shelter can be loud and scary, Rossignol explained. He has schizophrenia and deals with bouts of paranoia, making the shelter environment even more of a challenge, he said.
Before he even finished his tale, Smith was making phone calls. Providence Rescue Mission usually doesn’t allow people after a certain hour, but she got Rossignol in.
Elated, he bundled back up and headed to the bus stop.
Smith and the interns walked back up to Cathedral Square toward Crossroads, continuing to check each corner.
“Please don’t try to stay outside,” Smith begged anyone passing by. “Please.”
On Twitter: @jacktemp
By Christine Dunn
Journal Staff Writer
Posted Dec 12, 2017 at 12:41 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Standing outside in the cold drizzle Tuesday morning, Mayor Jorge Elorza announced new housing assistance for residents in the form of down-payment/closing-cost loans for home buyers, and loans for home repairs.
The city has made $200,000 available for down-payment help, which will be available starting Jan. 15, and another $200,000 for home repairs. Both programs are being financed through the city’s community development block grant money. The City Council is also considering adding another $200,000 to the home-repair loan program, for which funds are available now.
All the assistance is in the form of a zero-percent interest, deferred-payment loans for up to $25,000. Payment is due upon sale, change of primary residence, refinancing with cash out, debt consolidation or transfer of the property title.
Tuesday’s announcement was made in front of a home at 160 Langdon St., purchased last year for $130,000 by Magda Berroa with down-payment assistance from the city. Berroa is the mother of a son with special needs.
City Councilman Nicholas Narducci (Ward 4) said he lives about 10 houses down from Berroa’s home, and he remembers that the house was vacant for a long time, and had started to become a neighborhood trouble spot. Acting Council President Sabina Matos and Councilman David Salvatore were also at the announcement.
“Fostering housing equality is one of my administration’s top priorities,” the mayor said.
Melina Lodge, executive director of the Housing Network, noted that Providence is one of a handful of municipalities in the state that has made down-payment assistance available to residents. Lodge’s group, an association of nonprofit community-development agencies and affordable-housing developers, will manage the city’s down-payment assistance program. The home-repair program is being run by the city’s Community Development Division.
The down-payment and closing-cost assistance is available to buyers who meet HUD income limits who purchase a 1- to 3-family home or condominium. The properties must be the owners’ primary residences. The program is also restricted to those who can commit to staying in the property for at least five years. The funding is extremely limited and will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The home-repair loan program helps qualified homeowners perform a variety of home-improvement projects, including emergency roof replacements, heating-system replacements and correction of code violations.
Applications for the home-repair program are also processed on a first-come, first-serve basis unless an emergency situation exists that warrants prioritization (for example, a house with no heat or no running water). For more information or to apply, call (401) 680-8400 or visit http://www.providenceri.gov/planning/community-development/. Applications are also available by visiting the Joseph A. Doorley, Jr. Municipal Building at 444 Westminster St., Providence.
For more information on how to apply for down payment and closing-cost assistance, call (401) 721-5680 or visit the Housing Network of Rhode Island’s website www.housingnetworkri.org/our-programs/down-payment-and-closing-cost-assistance-program/. Applications can be made in person by visiting the Housing Action Coalition of Rhode Island at 1070 Main St., Pawtucket.
On Twitter @ChristineMDunn
Courtesy of Providence Journal
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development today awarded a record $2 billion to support more than 7,300 local homeless assistance programs across the nation. HUD's Continuum of Care grants provide critically needed support to local programs on the front lines of serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness. View a complete list of all the state and local homeless projects awarded funding.
Due to the last year's devastating hurricanes, HUD extended the application deadline for communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands until February 16, 2018.
HUD continues to challenge state and local planning organizations called "Continuums of Care" to support their highest performing local programs that have proven most effective in meeting the needs of persons experiencing homelessness in their communities. Many of these state and local planners also embraced HUD's call to shift funds from existing underperforming projects to create new ones that are based on best practices that will further their efforts to prevent and end homelessness.
"HUD stands with our local partners who are working each and every day to house and serve our most vulnerable neighbors," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. "We know how to end homelessness and it starts with embracing a housing-first approach that relies upon proven strategies that offer permanent housing solutions to those who may otherwise be living in our shelters and on our streets."
Matthew Doherty, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness added, "Continuums of Care are critical leaders in the work to end homelessness nationwide. When communities marshal these--and other local, state, private, and philanthropic resources--behind the strongest housing-first practices, we see important progress in our collective goal to end homelessness in America."
HUD Continuum of Care grant funding supports a broad array of interventions designed to assist individuals and families experiencing homelessness, particularly those living in places not meant for habitation, located in sheltering programs, or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Each year, HUD serves more than a million people through emergency shelter, transitional, and permanent housing programs.
Last month, HUD reported homelessness crept up in the U.S., especially among individuals experiencing long-term chronic homelessness. HUD's 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress found that 553,742 persons experienced homelessness on a single night in 2017, an increase of .7 percent since last year. Homelessness among families with children declined 5.4 percent nationwide since 2016, local communities report the number of persons experiencing long-term chronic homelessness and Veterans increased. HUD's 2017 homeless estimate points to a significant increase in the number of reported persons experiencing unsheltered homelessness, particularly in California and other high-cost rental markets experiencing a significant shortage of affordable housing.
HUD's mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.
More information about HUD and its programs is available on the Internet
at www.hud.gov and https://espanol.hud.gov.
You can also connect with HUD on social media and follow Secretary Carson on Twitter and Facebook or sign up for news alerts on HUD's Email List.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness coordinates and catalyzes the federal response to homelessness, working in close partnership with senior leaders across 19 federal agencies. By organizing and supporting state such as governors, mayors, and local planners. USICH drives action to achieve the goals of the federal strategic plan to prevent and homelessness, in order to ensure that homelessness in America is ended once and for all.
Courtesy of HUD
Posted: Apr 27, 2018 at 12:01 AM
Updated: Apr 27, 2018 at 12:28 PM
Lunch won’t be served for another 15 minutes, but the line is already out the door at McAuley House on Elmwood Avenue.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Lunch won’t be served for another 15 minutes, but the line is already out the door at McAuley House on Elmwood Avenue.
Seemingly out of nowhere, dozens of people converge just after 11 o’clock. Many arrive by bus, others by foot and some by car, all knowing that during a day filled with uncertainty a meal at McAuley is something they can count on.
By 1 o’clock, volunteers and staff on this Friday during Lent will have served more than 200 plates of fish, rice, coleslaw, bread and dessert to the steady stream of “guests” — some homeless, but many who work and need help stretching a paycheck, especially at the end of the month. While breakfast and lunch are the main draw here, the staff helps with a full array of wraparound services — from securing bus passes and prescription eyewear to housing and medication — through its outreach center.
McAuley House is only one part of the lesser-known McAuley Ministries, which also runs a thrift store in Central Falls and a two-year transitional housing/workforce development program for 23 single mothers and their children in South Providence that is seeing impressive results.
“McAuley Ministries has always been a quiet ministry, hasn’t sought a lot of publicity, but we want people to know we’re much broader than just the meal site,″ said executive director Don Wolfe. “It’s really a spectrum of food, shelter, clothing and respect for the most vulnerable in the community.″
McAuley’s roots stretch back to the 1830s in Dublin, Ireland, when Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy, creating a place for homeless mothers and their children. Her goal was to educate and train the young women to do something productive. When the Irish immigration came to the United States, the Sisters of Mercy came with them, some arriving in Providence. Today, two sisters still work at McAuley, one as an outreach worker, the other as an administrative assistant.
The first McAuley House in Rhode Island opened in 1975 in South Providence, before moving to its current location in 2004; McAuley Village with 23 apartments was built in 1990, modeled after a program in Hartford. The Warde-robe, named for Sister of Mercy Frances Warde, initially opened as a store for low-cost children’s clothing on Broad Street in Central Falls in 1996. Within walking distance for many, the locals called it The Nuns’ Store as it was created by two retired Sisters of Mercy.
Every Wednesday the community room in the basement of McAuley Village is packed by 5:15 p.m., as all the mothers who are not working or in class gather for a community dinner with their children. Every week a different mother cooks for everyone. It is a time to catch up, give the kids a chance to interact and hear from speakers who periodically come in after dinner to talk about things like parenting or nutrition.
“Many of our families have never lived in a place longer than two years, so this might be the first time in their lives that they have actually had a bed,″ said the Rev. Michele Matott, an Episcopal priest who serves as the administrator at the Village. “Often our residents are moving in from broken families themselves, domestic violence situation, shelters; they’ve never had a sense of community.″
The program is challenging, with specific expectations and regular status meetings to make sure the mothers are achieving certain benchmarks. Each resident is expected to contribute 30 percent of her paycheck toward rent ($50 per month if she’s in school). The mothers have to be at least 20 years old and their children 10 or younger. McAuley has childcare available in the building and counselors who begin working right away toward settling families in permanent housing when they leave. There is a nine- to 12-month waiting list to get into the McAuley Village program.
“We push them hard and there are times that they complain, but that’s what we seek, to develop a community where you can come and we talk about the issues and the problems you’re facing,″ Matott said, adding that McAuley has a 93-percent success rate of mothers remaining in housing after completing the program — and not going back into a shelter. The rate in New York City, she said, is about 30 percent.
“I am passionate about the program because if I had this opportunity I would have gone a lot further in my education,″ said Odette Delgado, who has been the resident services coordinator the past five years. Delgado said what makes the program unique is that all of the services are under one roof.
“I’m a single mom too, so I’ve been there,″ she said. “I make them aware this is a once-in-your-lifetime opportunity and you need to take advantage of it. Because right now you don’t have to worry about the things that you’re going to have to worry about once you’re out of here.″
Matott said that over the last five years, the women leaving McAuley Village have gone on to become medical assistants, x-ray technologists, pharmacy technicians, nurses, school bus drivers, childcare assistants, dental hygienists, dental assistants and accountants.
“It’s wonderful to watch them go from no education, no parenting skills and no job readiness skills and to see them in permanent housing with a full-time job often and their children have excelled in schools,″ she said.
At the north end of Broad Street in Central Falls, the Warde-robe has been a go-to place the past two decades for struggling families needing clothing and household items. The store has seen a transformation since Andres Montoya was hired three months ago as its new administrator. Being bilingual has been a big plus.
“We are able to provide gently used clothes for the community for a low price, but also we provide them a welcome smile and we always try to listen,″ said Montoya, who came to Rhode Island from Colombia when he was 21. He was looking to combine ministry with a retail touch, after working at Banana Republic for eight years.
“Sometimes you don’t really need to sell, sometimes people are in need of someone to listen to their struggles,″ he said.
Montoya has already made small, but significant, changes: separating out boys and girls clothing and putting signs throughout the store to direct customers to the inventory. He also puts a mannequin in a stylish dress out front with an “open” sign during store hours. And he has increased the hours of operation. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
He stressed that the store could not thrive without a cadre of volunteers. “The passion of my volunteers and the donations we receive,″ he said. “When you open the back door to receive donations you see the smile on their faces.”
Montoya said a men’s T-shirt averages 50 cents, a pair of pants $2.25. Customers often come in several times a week because new donations arrive daily. He is also mindful that while the store is a ministry, it also has to be self-sustaining financially.
“I like to implement different styles around the building just to enhance not only the presentation but also to make people aware of everything we have,″ he said.
Yvette Kenner came to McAuley House a month ago, after spending 10 years as the executive director of the South Providence Neighborhood Ministries six blocks away. She said she was attracted by McAuley House’s array of services for a population often facing multiple challenges.
“It’s tough because people don’t know where their next meal is coming from and when you’re elderly or young and on limited income, you’re saying to yourself, ‘What do I do, do I buy groceries this month, do I pay for medication this month, do I pay my electric bill this month?’” she said.
Kenner is both a smiling face, a calming voice and a forceful presence when necessary as hundreds of people pass through the doors of McAuley House every day, beginning with a breakfast offering of yogurt and cereal. McAuley House has also transitioned into a healthy foods program, where every meal is carefully planned with good eating habits in mind.
McAuley Ministries’ annual budget is $1.5 million, most of which the nonprofit raises by contributions from individual donors, grants, foundations and from corporate sponsors. And for the past decade corporate partners have participated in the Lunch on Us program, committing to help with lunches for an entire month — often bringing in 40 or 50 employees over the course of four weeks to help.
“Every corporate volunteer says they want to come back,″ said Wolfe, the executive director who will retire this summer after 12 years. “Everybody has something in their heart that says they want to give to someone in need and this is a real opportunity to do that. It was an eye-opener for me to come and work here. It’s an eye-opener for many folks to see folks who are in a different financial level, different financial stresses, to be thankful for what you have — and to the best of your ability to support those folks in need. We all need to do that.″
The Rhode Island Spotlight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies, in part, on donations. For more information, go to RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. Reach Jim Hummel at Jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org.
For a look at the work of McAuley Ministries, visit us online at providencejournal.com/rispotlight.
By ARTHUR ALLEN and LORRAINE WOELLERT
12/06/2017 05:49 PM EST Updated 12/07/2017 11:52 AM EST
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has killed a plan to shift money from a major homelessness program in response to a wave of protest from veterans' advocates, who said the move would aggravate conditions for chronically ill and vulnerable vets.
Advocates for veterans, state officials and even officials from HUD, which co-sponsors the $460 million program, had attacked the decision, saying the service has helped dramatically reduce homelessness among veterans. After POLITICO published a story about their anger, Shulkin reversed course late Wednesday.
"There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless program," he said in a news release, adding that the money would not be shifted to the Choice program, which enables veterans to get health care outside the VA system.
Shulkin promised to get input from local VA leaders and others "on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most."
The announcement came after a confusing week of messaging from the VA. On Nov. 27, Shulkin and HUD Secretary Ben Carson appeared at a Washington shelter to tout President Donald Trump's commitment to ending veteran homelessness.
Then on Dec. 1, Shulkin's staff told advocates on a phone call that the agency was ending the program--one of two major VA homelessness projects-- and funneling the money to local VA hospitals that could decide how to use it. The original VA decision was buried in a September circular without prior consultation with HUD or veterans’ groups.
A person involved with the program said the decision to cut it was made with no input from rank-and-file VA or HUD staff and surprised even employees at the VA.
Shulkin's reversal also came after HUD on Wednesday released its annual survey showing a 1.5 percent increase in veteran homelessness over 2016 — the first rise since 2010. Most of the jump occurred in Los Angeles, where housing costs are skyrocketing.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who sits on a veterans' affairs subcommittee, had called the earlier VA decision "a new low" for the Trump administration that was "especially callous and perplexing" in view of the latest data on homelessness.
Murray and the 13 other members of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction-VA Subcommittee had asked the VA to reconsider its decision.
HUD data show there were nearly 40,000 homeless veterans in 2016, and even those with housing still need assistance. The program has reduced the number of displaced service members, serving 138,000 since 2010, and cut the number without housing on a given day by almost half. More than half the veterans housed are chronically ill, mentally ill or have substance abuse problems.
They can easily lose their housing again and need VA case managers to mediate with landlords, pay bills, and help them access the agency’s services and jobs, said Matt Leslie, who runs the housing program for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.
“The people in this program are the most vulnerable individuals,” Leslie said. “If someone’s going to die on the streets, they are the ones.”
Veteran and homeless advocates were infuriated by the VA's original decision.
"I don’t understand why you are pulling the rug out," Elisha Harig-Blaine, a National League of Cities housing official who was on last Friday's call, said in an interview afterward. "You're putting at risk the lives of men and women who've served this country."
“The VA is taking its foot off the pedal,” said Leon Winston, an executive at Swords to Plowshares, which helps homeless vets in San Francisco, where he said the VA decision is already having an impact. HUD recently put up 100 housing vouchers for veterans in the program, but the local VA hospital said it could only provide support for 50.
Agency spokesman Curtis Cashour said Tuesday that the move gave VA medical centers more flexibility to "ensure resources go where they best align with veterans’ needs.”
The decision would have affected $265 million immediately and $195 million more under the VA’s 2018 budget. Under the program, HUD offers housing vouchers for veterans, and the VA provides case management — finding them apartments and making sure they stay there.
At the Nov. 27 event, Shulkin and Carson said Trump was increasing funding for veteran’s homelessness. They promised to help every veteran find a home.
When asked about the administration’s budget, which still includes no additional vouchers for the hard-case veterans, Carson said HUD had “excess vouchers. When we use those, we’ll look for more,” he said.
“The old paradigm of dumping money on problems doesn’t work,” Carson added.
Some communities have excess vouchers, but many more don’t have enough, said Harig-Blaine, who is also a member of Shulkin's advisory committee for homelessness. Even in cities where there are excess vouchers, they exist only because the voucher community can’t compete with private market rents, he said — not because there aren’t homeless veterans there.
Advocates had said cuts to the homelessness program would be doubly foolish because the chronically homeless veterans it serves typically cost cities and the health care system hundreds of thousands of dollars for emergency room visits, ambulance runs and jailings that could be avoided if the veterans were reasonably sheltered.
“These are the kinds of veterans it deals with,” said Kathryn Monet, CEO of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
Renuka Rayasam contributed to this report.
Courtesy of POLITICO
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