MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Our theme today is "Out in the Cold." And this winter homeless advocates say they're seeing more people than ever struggling to find a place to lay their heads at night. 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're often the hardest to reach and the most vulnerable.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
One of them is a man named Raymond Rose. We met him more than a year ago, when he was sleeping outside the National Zoo on Connecticut Avenue.
MR. RAYMOND ROSE
They have benches there. If it's raining, the bus stop -- go to the bus stop and you're just not going to get wet there. I know I can go here and sit down and just cover myself and stay warm.
Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza joins us now to talk about Housing First and whether the people it originally housed are still in their apartments. Hi, Kavitha.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Hi, Rebecca. 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 so he lost his job. He says after he became homeless, he was very embarrassed about being recognized.
Actually the hardest part is wondering if someone you know is going to come up on you and wonder what's going on. And what do you say?
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 now lives in Adams Morgan and he has a computer and a television, but best of all, he loves his kitchen.
Well, I do my breakfasts, but they're bad breakfasts. I do bacon and eggs and sometimes pancakes and things like that. There was that time when I didn't know whether I would ever have it again. It's meaningful to me.
You don't take it for granted.
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 led to their homelessness before they could be placed in housing. So they had to be what was called housing ready. 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 percent.
Wow. So, Kavitha, I want to talk about financials. First of all, how expensive is Housing First, and then who pays for it?
Well, federal funding helps cover the cost 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 them live on the streets.
MS. CHRISTY REPRESS
For D.C., this program, this Housing First model, costs about $22,000 to $24,000 with housing and the services, which is much, much less expensive than having someone stay on the street when you think about the costs of hospitalization, jail, emergency room use, all of those services connected to being homeless.
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, they're all making a big dent in their number of chronically homeless veterans. Vince Kane, with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is hoping to get an additional 10,000 housing vouchers that can be passed on to local communities, like D.C., to help other veterans like Raymond Rose. They have a goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015.
MR. VINCE KANE
I think everybody inside V.A. and in the community recognizes that nobody that wore the uniform should be on our streets. We certainly would like to be further along. But we do believe that we have the infrastructure in place now, the supports in place, and the resources to kind of quicken that pace to achieve the goal.
Kane says the V.A. is offering approximately $600 million to organizations that work with low-income veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. He says that money will go a long way in helping veterans to avoid ending up on the streets in the first place.
Well, let's hope so. Kavitha Cardoza, thank you so much for the update on this issue.
Do you know someone who's struggling with homelessness? How are they coping? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send us a tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro.
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