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Can D.C. End Homelessness For Veterans?

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Christy Respress (Ex-Director of Pathways to Housing DC), Raymond Rose (veteran) and David Bridges (Housing First Team Program Director)
Kavitha Cardoza/WAMU
Christy Respress (Ex-Director of Pathways to Housing DC), Raymond Rose (veteran) and David Bridges (Housing First Team Program Director)

The shelter at the hospital once known as D.C. General is full, and hundreds of families are being housed in hotels because of the shortage of beds. As officials grapple with those problems, a program called Housing First is working to put some of the city's chronically homeless veterans into apartments. They are often the hardest to reach and the most vulnerable.

One of them is a man named Raymond Rose. He was featured in a story on Metro Connection more than a year ago, when he was sleeping outside the National Zoo on Connecticut Avenue.  Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza joined Metro Connection's Rebecca Sheir to talk about Housing First and whether the people it originally housed are still in their apartments.

So Raymond Rose served in the air force during the 1960s and then went on to work as a cameraman for local television stations. But then he began having breathing problems and couldn't carry the heavy equipment and lost his job.  He said after he became homeless, he was very embarrassed about being recognized.

"Actually the hardest part is someone you know coming up on you and wonder what's going on," Rose said.

But Rose isn't on the street anymore, right?

No. The nonprofit Pathways to Housing DC, with help from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, helped him find his own apartment. He lives in Adams Morgan, and he has a computer and a TV, but best of all he loves his kitchen.

"I do bad breakfasts. Bacon and eggs, but I like being able to do that! There was that time I never knew if I would have it again. And it's meaningful to me," Rose said.

So, this program Housing First that's helping Raymond Rose and 49 other veterans is a fairly new model for dealing with chronic homelessness.  In the past everyone wanted a homeless person to have dealt with their addictions or mental illness or whatever had led to their homelessness before they could be placed in housing.  This program provides the housing first, and then works with the clients to provide intensive services including a psychiatrist, social workers, a nurse and an addiction specialist. .  The Urban Institute did a study a few years ago and found the Housing First model has been very successful among veterans most at risk of dying on the streets. In multiple studies, 85 to 90 percent of these veterans remain in housing. In DC, it's 100%.

So, let's talk money — how expensive is Housing First, and who pays for it?

Well, federal funding helps cover the costs of Housing First.  Federal vouchers pay up to $1,400 a month toward an apartment. The veteran contributes up to 30 percent of his or her income, from disability or social security checks. Christy Repress, the executive director of Pathways to Housing DC, says her team helps comes up with the apartment security deposit and the furnishings but she says it's actually cheaper to house a veteran using this model each year, than have him live on the streets.

"For D.C., this Housing First model costs about $22,000-$24,000 with housing and the services," Repress says. "Which is much, much less expensive than having someone on the street when you think about the costs of hospitalization, jail emergency room use, all those services connected with being homeless. Much more cost effective."

Phoenix recently announced it was the first city in the U.S. to end chronic veteran homelessness. Salt Lake City followed soon after. Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago are also making a big dent in their number of chronically homeless veterans. Vince Kane, who heads the National Center on Homelessness among Veterans, is hoping to get an additional 10,000 housing vouchers that can be  passed on to local communities to help other veterans like Raymond Rose. They have a goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015.

"Nobody who wore the uniform should be on the streets, we're about quickening the pace," Kane says. "We would like to be further along. But we do believe we have the supports in place and the resources to achieve that goal."

Kane says the VA is offering approximately $600 million to organizations that work with low income veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. And he says that money will go a long way in helping veterans to avoid ending up on the streets in the first place.

Well, Kavitha Cardoza, thank you so much for the update on this issue.

You're welcome.

Do you know someone who's struggling with homelessness? How are they coping? Email us at Metro@WAMU.org, or send us a tweet. Our handle is @WAMUMetro.

[Music: "Shiver (Instrumental)" by Coldplay from Parachutes]


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