April 20, 2015

Columbia Area recieves $220,000 in federal funds to house homeless veterans

The Columbia area will have 35 more rent vouchers to help house homeless veterans – but it has to find vets to take advantage of the assistance.

The federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs on Monday awarded an additional $65 million to local housing authorities around the nation to work toward ending veteran homelessness, including more than $720,000 given to three South Carolina housing authorities.

The Columbia Housing Authority received $157,785 to go toward an additional 25 rental assistance vouchers for Columbia veterans, and another $63,114 for 10 vouchers in Sumter County. Charleston and Myrtle Beach also received additional voucher funding.

The vouchers, part of HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, allow veterans to pay no more than 30 percent of their incomes toward rent, while the federal government picks up the remaining tab. Veterans do not have to have an income to qualify for the vouchers.

“Whether it’s a 63-year-old veteran of Vietnam or a 22-year-old veteran of Afghanistan, these men and women are, indeed, our heroes,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said at a news conference Monday where the voucher funds were awarded. “These men and women have served our community and our nation ... and now it’s our turn to serve them.”

With the new voucher grants, the Columbia Housing Authority has around 80 unused housing assistance vouchers available for Columbia-area veterans, director Gilbert Walker said Monday.

To take advantage of the rental assistance program, candidates must come through the local VA, which identifies and connects veterans to a variety of services, including housing assistance and medical care.

There are more homeless veterans in the Columbia area than there are available housing vouchers, yet there are dozens of vouchers not being taken advantage of.

Columbia’s winter shelter saw about 90 homeless veterans between November and March, accounting for about 12 percent of the people who used the shelter.

The single-night point-in-time homelessness count conducted by the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless in January 2014 identified 108 homeless veterans in Richland County, though the true figure likely was higher.

Statewide, point-in-time counts identified 580 homeless veterans in South Carolina in 2014, accounting for about 14 percent of the state’s adult homeless population.

Data from South Carolina’s 2015 homelessness counts have not yet been made available.

The federal HUD uses point-in-time data to help determine how to dole out grants such as VASH vouchers.

Since 2008, HUD reports that more than 88,000 homeless veterans nationwide have been served through the VASH program.

Read more here at The State.