Homeless veterans benefit from a boost in housing funds

Mohave County awarded additional vouchers

Dave Wolf

Dave Wolf

KINGMAN - Forty-three of the 185 homeless people counted in a Mohave County survey last summer were veterans.

Kingman was home to 91 of the 185, with 71 homeless in Bullhead City and 23 in Lake Havasu City.

The figures are probably low, but help to reduce the number of homeless veterans came Oct. 2 in the form of $73,300 in housing vouchers from the federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs.

"These vouchers will help provide a better quality of life for our veterans, who have sacrificed so much for this country," said Mohave County District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson in a statement.

Mohave and Cochise are the only two counties in the state that received additional vouchers, according to Dave Wolf, manager of the county's department of Housing and Community Development's Community Services Division.

Fifty formerly homeless veterans in Mohave County have already benefited from the VASH program - 25 each in 2012 and 2013, according to Wolf.

A disproportionate number of veterans are homeless relative to the general population. While the government estimates 32 percent of the county's homeless are veterans, less than 25 percent of men in the U.S. and 2 percent of U.S. women are veterans.

Wolf said the federal government requires homeless counts to be conducted every two years in order to maintain funding for a wide variety of programs.

In Mohave County, however, the counts are done twice a year in a group effort involving homeless advocates such as the Cornerstone Mission and the Jerry Ambrose Veterans Council, among others.

These "point in time" surveys are done each winter and summer as homeless populations tend to migrate, depending on the weather.

"In Flagstaff, they pretty much clear out about this time of year and head south," said Wolf.

Volunteers are trained in how to approach homeless veterans prior to each survey. The job is not without risks.

"Many homeless veterans have issues with alcohol and substance abuse," said Wolf. "They have serious mental health issues, particularly the chronically homeless."

According to Wolf, the label of chronic homelessness applies to those who have been without a home for at least a year or have ended up homeless three or four times in recent years.

Wolf estimates at least half of all homeless citizens suffer from serious mental illness.

They are considered a "priority population."

Here's how the voucher program, known as Veterans Assistance Housing Vouchers, works: Once a homeless veteran's status has been confirmed and he or she is signed up for VA services, they can select a place to live.

Once the residence is inspected to ensure it meets "basic health and safety needs," the program provides tenant-based rental assistance, said Wolf.

The recipient pays no more than 30 percent of monthly income for rent and voucher funds pay the remainder.

"HUD is very dedicated to ending chronic homelessness among veterans," said Wolf. "And rightly so. These persons have served our country and we should honor their service and try to help them."

The very first homeless veteran that was helped by the program in 2012 illustrates how the need can be heartbreaking.

"She was a Navy nurse in World War II," recalled Wolf. "And she was living in a shed when we received the referral."

In addition to the veterans program, Wolf said other grants for disabled, elderly or chronically homeless people are also managed. Currently, he said 38 families in Mohave County with a formerly homeless disabled person benefit from the program. Another 23 families receive rental assistance through a Housing for Persons with AIDS.