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Supportive Housing Providers Reduce Veteran Homelessness in New York

11.11.2013

Many thanks to Jericho Project, SUS, CUCS, HSI, Albany Housing Coalition and others


(left to right) Jericho Project's Kingsbridge Terrace, a supportive housing residence for veterans in the Bronx; a tenant at The Knickerbocker, a transitional residence for vets from Services for the UnderServed (SUS); and the crowd outside the grand opening of the Richard J. Conners Veterans Home, a supportive housing residence from Albany Housing Coalition. Tenant photo courtesy of SUS.

On this Veterans Day, we wish to discuss the national tragedy of veteran homelessness.

In an era of fierce partisanship in Washington, D.C., ending homelessness among veterans remains one of the few issues both Democrats and Republicans can support. The Obama administration hopes to end veteran homelessness for good by the end of 2015. The administration, and the country, has a long way to go: According to the most recent estimates, nearly 63,000 homeless individuals identify as veterans in the United States. More than 6,000 of these men and women live in New York State.

New York nonprofits have taken a vigorous approach to lowering these numbers. Our state saw a 14% decrease in veteran homelessness from 2011 to 2012. We can attribute much of this drop to increased funding for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers and the work of our more than 220 supportive housing providers in New York.

Jericho Project offers a great example of how supportive housing nonprofits have helped end homelessness among veterans. An innovator in this field, Jericho launched a program last month to provide services to vets at risk of long-term homelessness.

This new program enables Jericho, for the first time, to provide homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing services to at-risk veterans and their families. Jericho offers assistance through case management, help with increasing income and direct cash assistance. The organization aims to serve 225 veterans this year. This new program is just one component of Jericho’s larger Veterans Initiative, which includes two supportive housing residences for vets.

“Jericho Project launched its Veterans Initiative in 2006 to address the specific needs of homeless veterans, with the recognition that veterans often do better when they are part of a supportive community of other veterans,” said Jericho Project Executive Director Tori Lyon. “Our goal is to help chronically homeless veterans heal and thrive while also preventing another generation of veterans falling into homelessness.”

Jericho’s new program is funded through a VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant. Numerous Network members have used SSVF grants in recent years, including Concern for Independent Living and Services for the UnderServed (SUS).

SUS began its new SSVF homelessness prevention program last month on Long Island. SUS provides case management services to veterans and housing supports including rental arrears payments, broker’s fees and other costs associated with finding a home. The organization’s New York City SSVF program is now in its third year.

“SUS’ work with veterans started in 1995 with the opening of its Knickerbocker residence in Brooklyn at a time when veteran services did not get the attention it deserved,” said Brett Morash, a U.S. Navy veteran and the director of Veterans Services at SUS. “Today, we provide community-based housing and supports for veterans so that they may successfully transition to civilian life as they recover from the physical and invisible wounds of war.”

Housing and Services, Inc. (HSI), a NYC supportive housing provider, has found another innovative way to house veterans. In 2010, HSI and several NYC providers found themselves in a bind. These organizations ran older residences that relied on Tenant-Based Section 8 vouchers, a resource that has become scarcer and scarcer – and completely unavailable since sequestration – making it difficult for providers to rent units.

After a series of meetings with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), HSI convinced the VA to refer veterans with VASH vouchers to the Kenmore, a 326-unit residence in Manhattan.  The residence admitted its first VA referral in early 2011. Today, 55 of the building’s tenants were referred from the VA.

This move, thanks largely to the dedication of HSI Executive Director Jim Dill, represents a win-win-win scenario: It’s a win for the VA, which has trouble finding vacant low-income units in NYC; it’s a win for the nonprofit, which now has a new income source thanks to VASH; and its a win, of course, for the veterans, who now have a place to call home.

“HSI has been delighted by its recent collaboration with the VA to rapidly house chronically homeless NYC veterans,” said Mr. Dill. “Many of these deserving veterans were living on the streets and simply could not be located to receive services. They rapidly stabilized after receiving housing at Kenmore, another great example of the effectiveness of the supportive housing model.” 

Upstate, the Albany Housing Coalition, Inc. operates several programs aimed at ending veteran homelessness. The Coalition runs a 28-unit transitional residence for vets, a 12-unit veteran supportive housing residence and veteran vocational programs. Like SUS and Jericho, the organization also recently launched a homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing program funded by SSVF.

Its efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Earlier today, the nonprofit Encore.org announced the winners of its 2013 Purpose Prize fellowship, which honors individuals who are over 60 and have impacted their communities in a positive way. Among this year’s winners was Joseph Sluszka, the Executive Director of Albany Housing Coalition.

“I am humbled and honored to be among a prestigious group of like-minded colleagues from across the country who are working to improve the lives of others,” Sluszka said about the fellowship prize.

Lastly, the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS) has just expanded one of its oldest programs to include a significant component for vets. This summer, CUCS began its Uptown HUD-VASH Scattered Site program, which offers housing and services to veterans who either have a VASH voucher or are VASH eligible. This small, just-launched initiative represents an expansion of CUCS Uptown program, which the organization first established in 1986.

“We thought it would be a natural progression to extend our scattered site case management services to veterans who have a history of homelessness and mental health issues,” said Russell Baptist, the Senior Program Director at the Uptown program. “We believe the supportive housing need is evident, and we believe our Uptown staff can make a difference in these people’s lives.”

CUCS hopes to house a minimum of 24 formerly homeless veterans by 2014 through this program.

Jericho Project, SUS, HSI, Albany Housing Coalition and CUCS are just five of the many supportive housing providers who work every day to end veteran homelessness in New York State. Today, we salute their invaluable work and the public service of America’s veterans.

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