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Effort grows to house homeless veterans

MGN-Online
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 9:21pm

El Paso and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have teamed up with other government agencies to provide additional housing for homeless veterans of the city.

The Housing Authority of the City of El Paso received 25 additional U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development vouchers for the VA Supporting Housing programs, bringing the total to 170 vouchers since 2008.

“Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive Housing program, also called HUD/VASH, is a program that works with the local housing authority to provide housing for our veterans, in conjunction with the treatment that the VA provides, to support them during the period when they are homeless,” explained John Mendoza, director of El Paso VA health care system.

While getting veterans off the streets is important, the VA is also working on ways to identify veterans who may find themselves in that position in the near future.

“There may be people who tomorrow, the next day, next month or even next year find themselves in an (unstable) situation,” said Mendoza. “One of the things that we need to be looking at, that the VA is looking at, is trying to identify ways to be more proactive. Trying to identify if a veteran is going to be in a situation where they may need that help and can we do something to support them so they don’t get into that situation where they are homeless.”

The HUD/VASH program is not a hand out. Those wishing to receive the help must meet certain criteria and be able to take the steps necessary to stay in the program.

“You have to qualify for the program,” said Kenneth Crawford, an Air Force Vietnam Veteran and HUD/VASH program participant. “Part of the qualification (is) they want you to be able to sustain yourself…. What the program does is help you help yourself. The whole program is designed so that you can get back up on your feet.”

The El Paso Coalition for the Homeless estimated 158 homeless veterans living in emergency shelters or on the streets in the El Paso area at the beginning of the year. The HACEP and the VA are determined to bring those numbers down.

“Community awareness, partnerships among our homeless assistance partners, and the voluntary participation of landlords in this program are critical components to the successful allocation of these vouchers,” said Gerald Cichon, chief executive officer of the Housing Authority of the City of El Paso. “By nature of their homelessness, the veterans are part of a transient population and are often difficult to reach. One homeless veteran living on the streets of El Paso is one too many. Therefore, we need everyone’s help to get them on the road to recovery.”

Getting the word of the HUD/VASH program out to the homeless veterans is a challenge. The HACEP, VA and other agencies attempt to reach as many homeless veterans as possible.

“This is a community effort. We work through our community homeless coalition. We get out there with our staff. We work with the HUD. We take a look at the veterans that come in,” said Mendoza. “We communicate to the community.”

The continuing efforts of those dedicated to reducing the numbers of homeless veterans in El Paso are commendable. The only way the program will work is if homeless veterans know about the program. In the end, it’s the veterans that have to be willing to work for the help.

“The program definitely works, but you must be doing something,” said Crawford. “You have to try to get a job, you have to go to school, you have to do something for yourself. The program doesn’t do everything for you, it helps you help yourself.” 

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