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Published: Friday, 3/16/2012

Advocate secures grant for local homeless veterans

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A local advocate for the homeless has found a way -- and the means -- to fill the gaps that arise when federal agencies provide housing for homeless veterans.

Ken Leslie, founder of 1Matters, was awarded a $26,250 grant from ProMedica's Advocacy Fund to cover the upfront costs, averaging $700 per person, that can delay the move into permanent housing for military veterans and their families.

The U.S. departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, or HUD-VASH, identifies, screens, and qualifies veterans in need, then provides housing vouchers and case management. But HUD requires recipients to pay a housing deposit or first month's rent, and the amount is either "very significant or an insurmountable barrier" for some, according to Mr. Leslie.

"HUD-VASH is an exceptional partnership by HUD and the VA, but the missing link is the unhoused veteran usually doesn't have a job or income for the deposit or first month's rent. It can take them months to get into readily available housing," he said.

Last month, Mr. Leslie met with leaders of the ProMedica Advocacy Fund and in just 11 days their collaboration created, funded, and implemented the "Veterans Matter" pilot project. The money is being administered by the Toledo Community Foundation to provide the housing costs for area homeless veterans screened and approved by the VA.

"The Advocacy Fund was established to address basic needs in the community … and housing is clearly one of the basic needs that we use to the fund to provide," said Stephanie Cihon, a ProMedica spokesman. "This looked like something that could happen fairly immediately, and we wanted to get these deserving veterans and parents and families into housing."

Mr. Leslie expects the program to have "a 100 percent success rate" because the veterans have already been screened and approved by the VA.

HUD's 2011 Point-in-Time survey reports there are 67,495 homeless veterans in the United States, including those in shelters, and 27,462 living on the streets.

According to Mr. Leslie, 75 veterans and their families in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are qualified for the HUD-VASH program, including 25 in the Toledo area. He considers the need to get homeless vets off the streets with the same urgency as "rescuing a pilot down behind enemy lines."

Already, one local veteran and his family who are living in a shelter have been approved for the Veterans Matter housing fund. The family did not want to be identified, Mr. Leslie said. Twelve more veterans and their families in the area are "in the pipeline" for permanent housing, he added.

HUD-VASH has awarded a total of 39,975 vouchers nationwide since the program began in 2008. Last year, $50 million was appropriated for vouchers to 7,000 families.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154



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