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As D.C. Struggles To House Homeless, Veterans Program Is Bright Spot

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

There are 58,000 homeless veterans in the U.S., but over the last year a local-national collaboration has been successful in placing 50 of D.C.'s hardest to reach and most vulnerable veterans in their own homes.

A year ago, Raymond Rose was sleeping outside the National Zoo in Northwest D.C.

"There are benches there, if it's raining, I can go to the bus stop and just not get wet. Actually the hardest part is someone you know coming up on you and wonder what's going on," he says.

Rose served in the Air Force during the 1960s and then worked as a cameraman for local television stations. But when he began having breathing problems and couldn't carry the heavy equipment, he lost his job and became homeless.

But a year ago, the nonprofit Pathways to Housing D.C., with help from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, helped him find his own apartment. For him, the best part is the kitchen.

"I do bad breakfasts. They're bacon and eggs and pancakes. There was that time I never knew if I would have it again," he says.

The Housing First model provides housing, and then links a person with services, rather than the other way round.

Federal vouchers pay up to $1,400 a month towards rent. The veteran contributes up to 30 percent of his or her income, from disability or Social Security checks. Christy Respress, who heads Pathways to Housing D.C., says it's actually cheaper to house a veteran using this model each year.

"For D.C., this Housing First model costs about $22,000 to $24,000 dollars with housing and the services. 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," she says.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs is hoping to get an additional 10,000 housing vouchers funding this year to pass onto local communities. The goal is to end veteran homelessness in 2015.

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