Community

Gary and Malissa Wright have rented apartments to nearly a dozen homeless veterans in Louisville.

The Wrights said they actively seek out such veterans to fill their vacant units.

“These veterans deserve a second chance, they deserve a helping hand, not a hand out — a hand up,” Malissa Wright said.

Natalie Harris said she wishes Louisville had more landlords like the Wrights.

Harris, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, leads a city initiative that aims to get all homeless veterans into permanent housing by the end of the year.

Through the initiative, homeless veterans are issued vouchers provided by various government agencies that cover the fair-market cost of rent.

More than 200 of Louisville’s homeless veterans have been placed in apartments or houses since Mayor Greg Fischer announced the ambitious plan in January, Harris said.

But that’s only half of the veterans living on local streets or in shelters.

The reason the effort isn’t further along in meeting its goal: There aren’t enough landlords willing to rent a place to homeless veterans with housing vouchers, Harris said.

“That’s holding us up right now,” she said. “We have a lot of people who have a voucher in hand but need to find an apartment.”

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The Wrights sometimes offer jobs to the veterans they work with, who often struggle to get back on their feet after months or even years of living on the street — even though they’ve obtained steady housing.

“We kind of take them under our wing if we can, and advise them and give them help, and if I have work I pay them to help,” Gary said.

But not all property managers in Louisville share the same ideals.

Teresea Cook works at Park Chateau Apartments in Old Louisville. She said the complex’s management accepted veterans with vouchers in the past but had a few bad experiences. So they’ve stopped accepting the vouchers.

“It got to where we were having so many problems with some of the folks that were on program vouchers,” Cook said.

But Malissa Wright said voucher-holding veterans have been some of her best tenants.

The city’s initiative, called Rx: Housing Veterans, also includes other services for homeless veterans.

The vouchers are provided through programs facilitated by the Veterans Administration or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They ensure landlords will get their rent in full every month.

To get a voucher, veterans are often evaluated by Volunteers for America advisers. That’s one of several nonprofits working on the effort to end homelessness among local veterans before the year runs out.

“When the VOA veterans come to me, they’ve already been through a drug and alcohol program, they’re sober, they’ve been sober for a while if they’ve had a program — and they’re so appreciative,” she said.

Other cities are also seeking to end homelessness among veterans. Earlier this week, NPR reported that New Orleans had reached its goal.

But New Orleans officials noted to NPR that homelessness is a continuous issue — more veterans will surely end up homeless in the future, and their needs will have to be met, too. Ending homelessness means having a process in place that can get a veteran into a home quickly, sometimes in as little as a day.

That’s the goal in Louisville, too, according to Harris.

She said the number of veterans living on Louisville streets or shelters is always in flux. The aim of the current initiative is to develop proven methods and strategies that can get a veteran through the system and into a house quickly.

Gary Wright works on an apartment in Shively he hopes to soon rent out to a veteran.Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Gary Wright works on an apartment in Shively he hopes to soon rent out to a homeless veteran.

But vouchers can only go so far, she said.

For the effort to reach its goal, Louisville needs enough landlords willing to accept the vouchers.

On a recent weekday, Malissa and Gary Wright picked up one of their newest tenants, Ernie Perkins — a one-time homeless veteran — and headed to an apartment complex they own in Shively.

They were looking to spend the day fixing some doors and putting the finishing touches on some tiling in order to get the one-bedroom apartment ready for their next tenant. Maybe for a veteran.

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