Feds Acknowledge Tribal Sovereignty With Consultations On Homeless Vets

Mark Fogarty

The federal government will consult with tribes on the best way to implement a new program aimed at giving supportive housing assistance to homeless American Indian veterans.

A series of six consultations with tribes will begin with one in Phoenix in February, according to Ophelia Basgal, a regional administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is running the program jointly with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What will be discussed is a new set aside for 2015 of $4 million for housing vouchers for homeless Native veterans for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH). The details of the program, such as which data sets to use and how to allocate the money, will be worked out in consultation with tribes, Basgal said.

(Al Grillo/AP)

Previously tribes had been shut out of the HUD-VASH program, which has been routed through public housing agencies (PHAs) in its seven years of existence. The new set aside, which was announced in Phoenix on January 30 by HUD Secretary Julian Castro, is an effort to extend the program to Indian Housing Authorities (IHAs) and tribally-designated housing entities (TDHEs) and to serve vets on or near tribal lands.

Basgal said some Native vets have been served through the PHAs but did not have the numbers served.

How it works currently is through case management at VA health facilities. VA officials who determine a vet is homeless or in danger of becoming so refer the vet to the PHA, which issues the voucher for rental housing.

Basgal said HUD expects 650 Native homeless vets will get housing vouchers through the program. With $4 million in funding that would average out to about $6,000 per homeless vet.

The program is “very much tailored to the needs of the specific vet,” said Basgal, meaning they could end up living in a supportive housing facility or living independently.

She said she expects “robust and fruitful conversations” with tribes on the nature of Native homelessness in cultures where hospitality is widespread. “They may be overcrowded but they take people in,” she said.

Tribes can also provide written comments to HUD, with a deadline for comments to [email protected] by February 25.

The announcement was at the Phoenix office of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, with Castro set to be joined by Maria Dadgar, executive director of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona and Diana Yazzie Devine, president of Native American Connections, also based in Phoenix.

Since 2008, HUD and VA have awarded more than 59,000 HUD-VASH vouchers and served more than 74,000 veterans experiencing homelessness. Rental assistance and support services provided through HUD-VASH are a critical resource for local communities in ending homelessness among veterans, said HUD.

Basgal said the two federal agencies have cooperated smoothly on running the program.

Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration also guarantees home loans made to Native veterans. In fiscal 2013, according to the agency, there were 10,111 mortgages made to Native veterans, for a total of $3 billion. The average amount of the loan was $303,000. DVA guarantees 25 percent of the loan, meaning it took on $763 million in loan guarantees for Native vets, averaging $75,000.

Native loans amounted to 1.8 percent of the agency’s volume for the year.

Almost all of the VA’s Native volume comes through its general program, available to all veterans. But it also runs a much smaller direct loan program to help Native vets finance the purchase of homes on federal trust land.

VA said it has entered into memorandums of understanding with 84 participating Native American tribes to participate in the direct loan program. During FY 2013, VA closed 28 loans under this program. Since its inception, VA has made 953 direct loans to Native American Veterans, the agency said.

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