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New grant helps veteran families avoid possible lives of homelessness

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Homelessness among veterans:

•One out of 10 veterans living below the poverty line experience homelessness, roughly double the rate of non-veterans in poverty.

•Nearly half of all veterans experiencing homelessness live in four states: California, Florida, Texas and New York.

•Just more than 3 percent of all veterans experiencing homelessness live in Arizona.

•Urban areas tend to have a disproportionately high number of homeless veterans.

•Female and minority veterans are at a higher risk for experiencing homelessness.

Source: 2009 joint report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

PHOENIX – Chela Sullivan works every day with families facing homelessness, helping them to find housing and connecting them with resources.

And lately, she says, more of those who walk through her organization’s door are veterans.

“We’re seeing a lot of people coming home from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the homeless issues and problems are increasing,” said Sullivan, housing director of United Methodist Outreach Ministries, known as UMOM New Day Centers.

Thanks to a $545,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Sullivan’s organization can help more veterans’ families avoid eviction and find permanent places to live, as well as connect with financial help and health care.

“We can make sure they’re getting all the entitlements they should be getting for their service,” she said.

The first–of–its–kind grant is part of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, a VA endeavor aimed at helping eradicate homelessness among veterans. UMOM New Day Centers, along with the Primavera Foundation in Tucson, were among 85 grantees across 40 states and the District of Columbia to share the total funds of about $59 million.

Efforts like this grant program help combat the larger issue of homelessness among veterans. Although veterans make up about 8 percent of the overall population, they make up 16 percent of adults facing homelessness, according to a 2009 joint report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA.

John Kuhn, acting director of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, said the grant program addresses the fact that veteran programs have historically focused on individuals without providing services that help families stay together.

“If you’re a mother or a father and you have children, you certainly don’t want to leave your kids behind,” he said in a telephone interview.

The organizations will focus first on getting the veterans’ families into permanent housing.

The grantees are already successful in their own areas and are well-connected to other organizations that could provide services for veteran families, Kuhn said.

“We’re taking advantage of that expertise,” he said.

With a permanent place to live, veterans and their families will be able to transition from military to civilian life more easily, said Marcy Karin, an associate clinical professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law who has written several articles on the issues veterans face.

“Figuring out what safe living environments are available on a more permanent basis allows people to have that steady location upon which they can base things like employment,” said Karin, who is also the director of the Work-Life Policy Unit in the Civil Justice Clinic.

Sullivan said her organization hopes to help 75 families this year with funds from the grant.

“We want to make sure that we’re helping the appropriate families that really, really need the services,” she said.