Community

A coalition of non-profits and government agencies have raised $9.6 million for an initiative to provide housing for Louisville’s estimated 360 homeless veterans, officials announced Tuesday.

The initiative, called Rx: Housing Veterans, aims to end homelessness among veterans in Louisville by 2016.

The $9.6 million is in addition to resources that were already in place to combat homelessness in the city, said Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless.

The additional funding will be used to secure permanent and temporary housing for homeless veterans, and will also be used to provide transitional services such as situation assessment, substance abuse treatment, job training and legal assistance.  Some veterans, Harris said, will need assistance “for years to come” while others just need help overcoming a “one time issue.”

Since 2010, the homeless population in Kentucky has dropped about 23 percent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2014 annual homeless report to Congress, which was released in November 2014.

The most recent single-night tally found about 5,000 Kentuckians were homeless. Nationally, more than 578,000 people are homeless on a given night, according to the report.

The groups involved in the initiative also include Family Health Centers, the Legal Aid Society, Seven Counties, among others.

Rx: Housing Veterans is an initiative spawned from the Obama administration’s push to eradicate veteran homelessness by 2016. Since the push began in 2010, homelessness among veterans has dropped more than 30 percent nationwide, said Jamie Watts, VA coordinator for the program.

Officials in New OrleansPhoenix and Salt Lake City have also made recent announcements that they have successfully ended homelessness among veterans.

Harris said homeless veterans fall into three general categories.

Some are considered to be chronically homeless, meaning they have “been on the streets for a long time and need a lot of ongoing support.” Others will need “about a year of short term assistance to get back on their feet” while another group will just “need an opportunity”—like a job, she said.

The Louisville veterans who qualify for short-term subsidies will receive approximately 12 months of assistance to get back on their feet through the VOA’s Support Services for Veteran Families program. Those who don’t qualify will be referred to Louisville Metro Community Services’ Rapid-Rehousing Program, according to a news release.

The Louisville Metro Housing Authority and Robley Rex VA Hospital Homeless Programs have committed more than 400 housing vouchers to the initiative, according to a new release.  For people who don’t qualify for a voucher, more than 120 transitional housing slots in local shelters have been secured until permanent housing can be acquired, Harris said.

Housing vouchers enable residents with little to no income to move into anywhere in the county that accepts Section 8 housing, Watt said.  About 25 veterans have already been moved into a permanent housing situation through the program, Watts added.  Many move into apartments around the area with help from vouchers.

Harris said she is confident that all 360 recognized veterans can be off the street and in a home by year’s end.

“I really feel like this is doable,” she said.

But not all veterans seem interested in getting into a permanent living situation.

Mark Brussow, 57, smoked a cigarette Tuesday outside Wayside Christian Mission on Jackson Street.

He said he is “content” living at Wayside. Brussow served in the military in Korea and returned to the U.S. in 1979. He moved in to the shelter five years ago and now he pays about $200 in rent to stay.

He said he wants to stay at Wayside for the rest of his life.

“I like the company, the people,” he said. “Everybody is my friend, so why not?”

But Brussow admitted that others at Wayside would disagree.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said this initiative is more than just talk.

“No one who wore our country’s uniform should have to live in the streets or in a shelter, and we are committed to working together to eliminate that homelessness in our community this year,” he said.

And Harris said funding is still needed to help the veterans put deposits down on apartments and to furnish their new homes with beds, tables and linens.

“While we have subsidies for most of the people that will need an apartment, we are still short,” she said.

Also, she encouraged employers to hire veterans.

“There is no better way you can help a veteran coming back than to hire them, give them a job and make them a sustaining member of our society,” she said.

Monetary donations can be sent to the Community Foundation of Louisville, 325 W. Main St. #1110, (502) 585-4649. For questions or to get involved in other ways, contact The Coalition for the Homeless at (502) 636-9550.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.