Merced County, na­tion see fewer home­less vet­er­ans

Merced Sun-Star - - Los Banos Enterprise - BY THAD­DEUS MILLER tmiller@mer­ced­sun-star.com

Vet­eran home­less­ness in the U.S. con­tin­ues to de­cline, in­clud­ing a 23 per­cent de­crease in Merced County, ac­cord­ing to an an­nual na­tional es­ti­mate an­nounced Thurs­day by the fed­eral De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment.

The an­nual re­port shows that the na­tional num­ber of home­less vet­er­ans dropped by 5.4 per­cent from 40,020 in 2017 to 37,878 this year. That num­ber is also nearly half the num­ber re­ported in 2010.

Merced County’s de­crease brought the num­ber to 13 vet­er­ans liv­ing in shel­ters or on the street, the re­port says. Stanis­laus and San Joaquin coun­ties each saw their num­bers dip by more than 10 per­cent.

HUD es­ti­mates 23,312 vet­er­ans were found in shel­ters across the coun­try, while vol­un­teers counted 14,566 vet­er­ans liv­ing on the street. In Merced, the an­nual tally found three vet­er­ans were stay­ing in a shel­ter and the other 10 were lan­guish­ing on the street.

In 2015, there were 88 home­less vet­er­ans in Merced County, ac­cord­ing to the tally. The next year saw the num­ber go down to 25 home­less vet­er­ans, and 2017’s count found

17. The an­nual tally is a snap­shot of the home­less prob­lem and does not re­flect an ex­act count, of­fi­cials have stressed.

Help­ing the home­less vet­eran pop­u­la­tion of­ten comes with the added dif­fi­culty that many of them suf­fer from post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der, ac­cord­ing to Phil Sch­mauss, a long­time home­less ad­vo­cate and mem­ber of the board for the Merced County Con­tin­uum of Care.

The strides made in re­duc­ing the num­ber of vet­er­ans with­out a home was at­trib­uted by lo­cal and na­tional home­less ad­vo­cates to vouch­ers pro­vided by HUD aimed specif­i­cally at for­mer men and women of the armed forces. The HUD-VASH pro­gram pro­vides per­ma­nent rental as­sis­tance from HUD, and case man­age­ment and clin­i­cal ser­vices pro­vided by the U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

The re­port shows a nearly 10 per­cent de­cline in fe­male vet­er­ans ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness. In Jan­uary, com­mu­ni­ties re­ported 3,219 home­less vet­eran women com­pared to 3,571 the pre­vi­ous year.

The fall­ing tally of home­less vet­er­ans is a sign that the new­est ef­forts by home­less ad­vo­cates are work­ing, ac­cord­ing to Robert Wilkie, sec­re­tary of the VA.

In July, lead­ers

an­nounced a plan to prevent and end vet­eran home­less­ness called “Home, To­gether.” The ef­fort re­dou­bles what has been a plan to end vet­eran home­less­ness for sev­eral years, ac­cord­ing to Matthew Do­herty, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the U.S. In­ter­a­gency Coun­cil on Home­less­ness.

Last year, more than 4,000 vet­er­ans, many ex­pe­ri­enc­ing chronic forms of home­less­ness, found per­ma­nent hous­ing and sup­port ser­vices through the na­tional pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials. An ad­di­tional 50,000 vet­er­ans found per­ma­nent hous­ing and sup­port­ive ser­vices through other VA home­less pro­grams.

“We owe it to our vet­er­ans to make cer­tain they have a place to call home,” HUD Sec­re­tary Ben Car­son said in a state­ment.

AN­DREW KUHN akuhn@mer­ced­sun­star.com

U.S. mil­i­tary vet­eran Ken Roark, 54, stands in his bed­room af­ter he ac­quired hous­ing in Merced through the Sierra Sav­ing Grace Home­less Project in March. He is now in hous­ing in Gil­roy, ac­cord­ing to Sierra.

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