A grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will pay to house up to five homeless veterans and their families in Walworth County, an issue officials say is pervasive among veterans.
The program, called Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, will provide housing vouchers and possibly subsidize up to 70 percent of rent, Executive Director for Walworth County Housing Authority Sarah Boss said.
Federal program coordinators in Milwaukee will choose voucher recipients. Boss and her staff and the Walworth County Veterans Services will give recommendations.
Similar state voucher programs for veterans exist, but Boss said the supportive housing program is the first one to help homeless veterans in Walworth County.
It’s unknown when the application process will begin, Boss said, but it could be as early as May.
Veterans in the program will be able to explore housing units that fit their needs, and they will not be restricted to Section 8 housing.
Asked if there is a need for homeless vouchers in the county, Boss said she “feels strongly that we won’t have a problem utilizing these vouchers.”
Nathan Bond of Walworth County Veteran Services said there are between 7,500 and 8,000 wartime veterans in the county.
The poverty line of $1,367 per month for a couple and $972 for an individual means the income level for voucher recipients will be “very low, as in you can’t have very much money at all,” he said.
Still, Bond agreed there shouldn’t be an issue filling the vouchers. Last year, he said the county helped house five veterans who needed housing assistance.
“And of course, it’s a temporary program. The idea is to get them back on their feet,” Bond said.
Amy Mauel, the assistant program manager of homeless programs at the supportive housing unit in Milwaukee, echoed Bond, saying the voucher program goes beyond just finding housing for veterans.
She said that is the first step in the rehabilitation process.
“We operate on a housing-first model. We meet veterans wherever they’re at,” Mauel said. “We do a complete assessment with them. We discuss with them what those goals are. We work with them to connect them to any kind of services.”
Bond said it’s important to know that “Homelessness is not a state, it’s a symptom. It’s not the disease in and of itself.
“For a lot of these individuals, there might be a physical disability, there might be a mental disorder,” Bond said.
“Any of those could be contributing to a disability of some sort. This all drives into perpetual poverty.
“The idea is to get them work, but in the meantime, what do we do? What are the deeper, more pervasive issues causing the homelessness?”