ROSEBURG - When Johnny – and Jill – come marching home from war they shouldn't have to sleep in the woods. They have stepped forward, volunteering to put themselves in harm's way – for us. And, no matter the risks or hardships, they have served us well. No wonder the President has said that our nation's most sacred obligation is to its veterans.
But, unfortunately, too many of our returning veterans do sleep in the woods. And on sidewalks, under bridges, in doorways.
On a cold night in January, 2011, volunteers from across the state of Oregon conducted a one-night, point-in-time count in order to gauge the number and the nature of those who were homeless in their communities. Almost 1,500 of those they counted were veterans.
The good news? Many vets had no permanent place to call home, but were at least temporarily living in emergency or transitional shelters. However, more than half – 819 veterans – were "living" on the streets or in the forests of Oregon.
Like those near Roseburg in Douglas County, a city of 21,000 about 200 miles south of Portland on Interstate 5. "Nearly half" of Oregon's homeless vets are found in southern Oregon, reported Reed Jackson of The Daily Journal of Commerce. "A lot of veterans come here for outpatient services," NeighborWorks Umpqua executive director Betty Tamm told him. "They hang out somewhere – under the bridges or in the forest – so they can get to their service."
They can't afford much else. A recent market study, for example, surveyed 180 homeless veterans in the area. Every single one of them had an income at 40 percent or below of the area median income. That doesn't give them much bargaining power in a rental market with a vacancy rate less than a third the national average which, itself, is the tightest in more than a decade.
Things are about to change. In early October, 2012, NeighborWorks Umpqua and the Umpqua Community Action Network broke ground for Eagle Landing, an 11-building, a 54-unit permanent housing complex for homeless vets and their families. It's rising on 5 acres provided through a no-cost lease by the Department of Veterans Affairs on the campus of its medical center in Roseburg. It's a first-of-a-kind project for the VA which has committed to ending veteran homelessness within 5 years.
Eagle Landing is being built with funds from, among others, the VA, Oregon Housing and Community Services, the Meyer Memorial Trust, NeighborWorks America, the Collins Foundation and HUD's HOME program. The Housing Authority of Douglas County plans to provide HUD rent subsidies which means eligible vets won't have to pay more than 30 percent of their limited incomes on rent.
When completed in 2013, explained Tamm, Eagle Landing will give homeless vets "stable housing and provide services to help them reintegrate into society." It will also complement other efforts by the VA and HUD like the 85 HUD VASH rental vouchers that have been awarded to the Douglas County Housing Authority and VA Medical Center Roseburg to help homeless vets find affordable, privately-owned rental units.
"After serving our country, veterans should not end up on the streets, homeless," HUD Northwest Regional Administrator Mary McBride said recently. "They have given us a great deal. Helping them obtain decent, affordable housing is the least we can do for them." Thanks to a lot of hard work by HUD and VA's partners, the number of homeless vets in America has declined over the last couple of years. But they're not yet out of the woods. But thanks to efforts like those in Roseburg, they're on their way.
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