VA and HUD ‘Fulfilling a Commitment’ to End Native Veteran Homelessness

Brian Daffron

The Departments of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Affairs announced an award of nearly $6 million in HUD-VASH (the HUD and VA supported housing program) vouchers for 26 tribal governments. The announcement was made January 8 at the winter meeting of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The combined efforts are part of the Obama administration plan to end veteran homelessness.

“This groundbreaking new effort is going to help 500 military heroes get back on their feet and help them move into secure housing and connect them to ongoing clinical services in case management,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro during a national press call following the announcement.

“Fulfilling a commitment to end homelessness is a national responsibility,” Castro said. “It’s also in our national interest. An America that is more inclusive and honors the dignity of all citizens is a nation that is stronger and more secure. Today, by extending the benefits of HUD-VASH to more Native American veterans, we’re building a more inclusive nation.”

Castro acknowledged the high level of contribution of both male and female Native veterans, and that “expanding HUD-VASH to Native communities will help our nation honor the service and the sacrifice of these brave Americans,” he said.

Castro also said that HUD has joined with seven other federal agencies “to lay out a comprehensive plan to end homelessness among American Indians and Alaska Natives. It’s the first time the federal government has ever made a focused effort to address homelessness for tribal communities.”

VA Secretary Robert McDonald was also part of the national press call, where he spoke of the ongoing collaboration that VA has held with both HUD and with the Department of Labor. According to McDonald, “homelessness is much more than just needing an apartment or a house,” he said, with the HUD-VASH vouchers offering a chance for creating stability to get what he referred to as “wrap-around” services. McDonald specifically mentioned these as being health care, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, GI bill funding, disability services and counseling.

The funding will be for this upcoming fiscal year, according to Castro. However, the funding will not be divided evenly among the tribes. Instead, the funding will vary “depending on the need,” Castro said. “There’s no one set amount that is being given to each tribe. It’s based on the number of homeless veterans.”  Initially, 30 tribes were selected to participate.

While Castro offered HUD commitment for the continuation of the program in following years, he said that it would depend on “congressional appropriation.” Upon continuation, funding would come “more swiftly” to get to Native veterans in following fiscal years.

Eligibility for HUD-VASH would be determined by the verification of veteran status by the VA. Once funds are disbursed to tribes, it would then be up to each tribal government to determine the implementation of the funds.

McDonald said that HUD-VASH is, ultimately, a way to get veterans on an initial path to services. He said that it is not meant to be shelter or transition housing. Instead, HUD-VASH is meant to be a two-to-three year residence in which the wrap-around services can begin.

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