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New Federal Housing Program for Vets

Charles Leek went to Vietnam to serve his country believing his country would take care of him.

“They always said they’ll give to us first,” said Leek.

But in 2003, he found himself homeless after his health began to decline and his marriage dissolved.

Leek, 61, was one of 154,000 veterans nationwide estimated to be homeless on any given night in 2007.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veteran Affairs have unveiled a $75 million initiative for a nation-wide rental assistance in April.

The HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) would provide 10,000 vouchers for chronically homeless veterans. Chicago is estimated to receive approximately 210.

While it is “a step in a right direction” some advocates say, there still is need for more programs that would help veterans make a smoother transition back to society.

“This is one way for a veteran to improve their self sufficiency,” said Donna White, a spokesperson for HUD.

“We need far more than 10 [or] 20,000 vouchers,” said Cheryl Beversdorf, president and CEO of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, a Washington D.C based non-profit organization. “There are a far more number of homeless veterans out there who could use these vouchers.”

She estimates there were 46,000 chronically homeless veterans in the United States in 2007. The Department of Veteran Affairs estimated 698 veterans for Chicago.

Targeting homeless veterans who are no longer eligible for transitional housing enables them to receive much needed supportive services from the VA, said Beversdorf.

“It’s effective in the sense it works for people who are not necessarily going to get better,” said Steve Berg, vice president of the National Alliance to End Homeless, a non-partisan organization based in Washington D.C.

Berg said veterans are more likely to be homeless while health, unemployment and lack of affordable housing are contributing factors for chronic homeless among veterans.

Alison Aikele, spokeswoman for the Veterans Administration, said the program is a way to bring veterans back into the VA system to use services they are entitled to.

Aikele said veterans would be able to apply through their case managers, at their local VA office. Once a veteran’s case has been approved, they would be connected with VA affiliated organizations.

Currently pending in the Senate and House is the Homes for Heroes Act, a bill which would give homeless veterans access to long-term affordable housing. Berg and Beversdorf agreed it would be effective legislation in preventing veterans becoming homeless.

The Homes for Heroes Act, was introduced in 2006 by presidential front-runner Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) and Rep. Al Green (D-Texas).

But the bill has not moved out of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Committee since being introduced.

Obama’s press office did not return calls.

After waiting a year, Leek, found housing at St. Leo’s Campus, a temporary housing complex for veterans on the South side of Chicago. He is has made inquires about the voucher program after hearing about it through his second-ex wife.

“If I could get Section 8 and I could be in Presidential Towers [a Chicago luxury apartment building], that would be nice.”

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