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Sitting on a couch at the VA Outpatient Clinic in South Toledo Thursday afternoon, surrounded by several formerly homeless veterans, one might not have realized Dusty Hill — with his full, flowing beard and black sunglasses — is an international rock superstar.
Mr. Hill, bassist for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band ZZ Top, was there to promote Veterans Matter, a program to house homeless veterans. Mr. Hill said he found out about the project through his publicist. “Once they filled me in on what it was ... then I was all in.”
The program assists veterans who are eligible for housing through the HUD-VASH program, a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA to fight homelessness and move veterans into permanent housing. HUD provides housing assistance through a voucher that allows homeless vets rent privately owned housing. Simultaneously, the VA offers supportive services to those individuals, said Shawn Dowling, a program coordinator for the VA based in Ann Arbor.
“The ultimate goal is to follow a housing-first model that takes a veteran directly from the street right into a home," she said.
However, often homeless veterans do not have a job or income to cover a required security deposit or first month’s rent. The Veterans Matter program was conceived to provide these upfront costs. The assistance of Veterans Matter has made “a significant impact”: Prior to Veterans Matter, it took about 137 days on average to house someone, that is now down to about 71 days, Ms. Dowling said.
“It does help us get people into an autonomous living situation that will help to immediately begin to improve the quality of their life,” she said.
A 2010 report by HUD on veteran homelessness noted on a given night, about 76,000 veterans in the United States were homeless — living in emergency shelter, transitional housing, or sleeping in an unsheltered place such as the street or their car. Locally, a January count of Lucas County’s homeless population found about 70 homeless veterans; the same tally counted about 90 the year before and about 66 in 2010.
One of those homeless veterans was Brian Rynicke, 53. Mr. Rynicke was homeless for about 10 years prior to getting assistance through the program.
“My life has changed,” he said. “I was homeless, living in abandoned houses.”
After meeting with the veterans and speaking to the media, Mr. Hill declined to perform, however, saying, “Nobody can sing rock and roll at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Contact Kate Giammarise at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.