Courtesy Ho-Chunk Nation
The Ho-Chunk Nation Sii Wonazi Hocira project – 10 one-apartment units of 650 square feet each for homeless tribal veterans.

Ho-Chunk Homeless Vets Project Beats Federal Effort

Mark Fogarty

The federal government recently announced grants of about $6 million for supportive housing for homeless Native veterans, touting an unusual collaboration between two federal agencies, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs. However, it seems as if at least one American Indian nation has already made a project like this happen and it already is housing Native vets.

The Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin last spring opened a $1.5 million facility to aid homeless Ho-Chunk veterans, according to a VA newsletter and a presentation on the project made at last month’s National American Indian Housing Council legal symposium in Las Vegas.

The Sii Wonazi Hocira project built 10 one-apartment units of 650 square feet each for homeless tribal veterans, according to the presentation by Neil Whitegull, executive director of Ho-Chunk Housing and Community Development Agency.

The Black River Falls-area development not only gives homeless or those in danger of becoming homeless Native vets a roof over their heads, but it connects them with an array of social services, a relatively new concept called “supportive” housing.

In this regard it resembles the federal HUD-VASH program, where 26 tribes will receive money for rental assistance for homeless Native vets through HUD and support services through the VA.

Whitegull told the NAIHC meeting the project, which added the supportive element in midstream, gives preference to homeless vets and those in danger of becoming homeless.

The HHCDA will not provide the services itself but will facilitate vets receiving services from a variety of sources, including tribal, county, state and federal efforts. He said it is intended to be permanent housing for these vets.

Each of the units is ADA accessible, and there are laundry facilities as well as rooms for games, workouts, conference/classroom and counseling.

The VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations Newsletter reprinted a report from the Jackson County Chronicle on the opening of the 11,000 square foot facility last June.

John Scocos, secretary of the Wisconsin office of the DVA, said he hoped this project will prove to be a model for the future.

The supportive services will include health care and mental health counseling and financial and life skills training, according to the article. “We’re going to put a roof over their heads and the rest will follow,” said Whitegull.

Funding for the project came mostly from the tribe, with the assistance of a non-profit in program development. The tribe estimates it has 90 to 200 veterans who are homeless or in danger of becoming so.

The article gave some details about the first resident of the new complex. Scott Kingwan, a Marine Corps veteran, had been having financial difficulties living in Madison, Wisconsin when he learned about the project, which he said will provide him with some stability.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro said the HUD-VASH program will help 500 Native veterans. He lauded the expansion of the program to Native veterans.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said the supportive services VA will include health care, substance abuse treatment, mental health care, GI bill funding, disability services and counseling.

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