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News / Clark County News

Veteran homelessness: up locally, down in U.S., state

Local official says counts more accurate now, still an undercount of reality

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: November 4, 2018, 6:00am

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday that veteran homelessness is declining statewide and nationwide, according to the annual Point-in-Time count, a single-day census of the homeless population.

However, the number of homeless veterans tallied in Clark County during the most recent count, in January, was 37, seven more than in 2017.

Kate Budd, executive director of the Vancouver-based Council for the Homeless, attributed the shift to more accurate counting as the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center began taking part.

Still, Budd said, the Point-in-Time is considered an undercount of the homeless population. She said Council for the Homeless’ Housing Solution Center has screened 154 households so far this year that claimed veteran status. Last year, there were 189 veteran households during the same period.

“This data is much more in line with what we’ve been seeing,” she said. “We have, obviously, too many veterans who are experiencing homelessness.”

When people sign into the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center in downtown Vancouver, they are asked if they’re homeless.

About 15 to 20 percent are homeless, the organization’s president, Judy Russel, said. There’s a group that visits the center’s lounge every day.

“A lot of what we see is housing related,” Russel said. “Its been like that for a while, but it seems to be worse this year than it’s ever been.”

Despite the ongoing issues around homelessness, Budd said, there has been great progress made in housing veterans.

In late 2017, several organizations started working together through a veterans-by-name list. The council, the assistance center, the VA, Partners in Careers, WorkSource and Clark County Community Services collaborate on how to get the people on the list housed.

“It’s a great way to bring everyone together and on the same page to share resources and permanently house veterans,” Budd said.

She added that the county provided $70,000 in funding this year to help people on the list with expenses such as move-in costs. The group is emulating communities across the nation that have by-name lists aimed at reducing veteran homelessness.

Budd would like to see the groups involved in the by-name list to grow. Portland, for instance, has elected officials, businesses and grassroots groups involved in its veterans by-name list.

A recent change in housing assistance fund guidelines allows the Veterans Assistance Center to help more people who are homeless or on the brink of it. The center can now help people earning up to 200 percent of the poverty level; before it was 150 percent. Russel said they can provide one month’s rent to struggling households, often preventing homelessness.

Among the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s five Washington territories, Clark County has the smallest population of homeless veterans. King County’s is the largest with 921 homeless veterans counted last January.

Budd said Clark County has fewer veterans because there is no military base. In 2010, the Army Reserve’s 104th Division, the Timberwolves, moved from Vancouver north to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

“Anywhere you see a base, there is likely a much larger population of veterans,” she said.

HUD attributed the state and national decline in veteran homelessness largely to the VA Supportive Housing, or VASH, program, which combines permanent rental assistance with case management and clinical services provided by the VA.

Vancouver Housing Authority has 140 tenant-based VASH vouchers, which clients can use at a rental of their choice, and 60 project-based vouchers tied to apartment buildings Central Park Place and Freedom’s Path. Clark County’s proposed 2019-2022 Homeless Action Plan prioritizes veterans, increases the number of vouchers and aims to reduce by half the number of households on the veterans-by-name list.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith