Col. Michael T. Rawls, 355th Fighter Wing vice commander, spoke at a press conference at city hall in Tucson, June 21, about ending veteran homelessness by 2015.
The White House has announced an initiative to end veterans homelessness by 2015, and Tucson is one of 25 flagship cities selected to lead this effort.
Tucson’s mayor, Jonathan Rothschild, has embraced this challenge and formed a working group to focus on identifying homeless and chronically homeless veterans.
They intend to place 52 veterans a month into housing. They also plan to cut the HUD VASH Voucher processing time in half, from 40 days to 20 days. HUD, stands for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and VASH stands for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing.
“Our homeless veterans run the gamut from chronic homeless to students taking classes at Pima Community College or the University of Arizona and living in their cars,” Rothschild said. “We can get both populations, chronic homeless and recent homeless off the street and into housing. We’re working hard to make this happen quickly, but it certainly won’t be easy. It’s going to require commitment from our city departments and employees, from our agency partners and from our community.”
Chronic homelessness is defined as someone who has been homeless for a year or four or more times in three years.
There are more than 350 homeless veterans in Tucson.
Partnering agencies include: CODAC Behavioral Health, the Tucson VA, American Red Cross, Tucson Fire Department, Tucson Police Department and the DM50.
Trained personnel go all over Tucson, into washes and under bridges, to find homeless veterans and try to get them to come in for assistance.
Veterans are given Section 8 housing choice vouchers through the VASH program after going through the VA for permanent housing. The veterans are referred to the city’s Housing & Community Development Office for furniture after they have chosen an apartment, signed the lease and had a housing inspection.
The amount of household furnishings varies with each client, based on their need and what is available.
“We are proud of the partnership we’ve development with the city’s Housing & Community Development Office,” Rawls said. “In the last two years, D-M has donated about 90 dorm rooms of furniture in support of efforts to house homeless veterans. We look forward to continuing this partnership.”
The furniture donated includes beds, dressers, desks, chairs and other miscellaneous items.
Rawls also reminded the press conference attendees that as wars wind down, veterans will be getting out of the military and may need assistance getting back into the civilian world.
“Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom have been the longest-running conflicts in our nation’s history,” Rawls said. “As we see these conflicts come to an end and the military services poised to become smaller over the next ten years, there will be an increasing number of veterans leaving the military.”
Rawls, new to the Tucson community, is very excited to know that Tucson was picked as a flagship city for this program.
“I’d like to thank each and every one of the organizations represented here today, and those who couldn’t be with us today, for their outstanding support of our military veterans,” Rawls said. “I can’t fully express my appreciation for what you do, and your passion and commitment to ensuring there isn’t a single military veteran without a place to call home.”