$600,000 will help veterans retain housing

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded nearly $600,000 in grants to nonprofit groups to help homeless veterans and those at risk of becoming homeless in southwestern Oregon.

The grants include $451,690 to Medford-based ACCESS Inc. to lead a collaborative effort to help low-income veterans in Jackson, Josephine, Curry, Douglas and Coos counties. The combined effort will provide support to 200 veterans and their families struggling to pay rent, utility bills, moving costs, child care and transportation in the region.

The VA also awarded St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County more than $137,000 to help veterans struggling with household incomes below 50 percent of the federal poverty level. The organization helps veterans facing eviction and assists with security and utility deposits. It also provides limited assistance for rent and child care.

The funding, part of a nationwide effort by the VA to help homeless or at-risk veterans and their families, becomes available on Oct. 1.

One out of every six people in homeless shelters across the nation is a veteran, the VA reported.

While there is no hard number for how many veterans in the five-county region are homeless or at-risk, there is definitely a need for the funding, said ACCESS Executive Director Jackie Schad. The group has been working with veterans and their families who have been facing financial problems, she said.

"We are thrilled to receive this grant on behalf of a five-county region of Southern Oregon," she said. "This collaboration will unite three community action agencies in coordinated efforts on behalf of Southern Oregon veterans."

ACCESS is collaborating on the effort with United Community Action Network and Oregon Coast Community Action to help at-risk veterans and their families in the five-county area, Schad said.

The VA will work closely with the groups in the effort to help the veterans, said Mike Twiss, chief of social work and coordinator of the veterans' homeless program at the VA's Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.

The grants are part of nearly $100 million that the VA announced on Tuesday would be awarded to 151 community groups in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The goal is to help 42,000 homeless and at-risk vets and their families, said VA spokesman Josh Taylor.

Last year, $60 million in similar grants went to 85 nonprofit community organizations in 40 states and Washington, D.C. The money helped about 22,000 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families, according to the agency.

Announced in 2009 by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and President Barack Obama, the program focuses on prevention, quickly securing housing and keeping families together, Taylor said. The goal is to end veteran homelessness nationwide by 2015.

"We are committed to ending veteran homelessness in America," Shinseki said in a prepared statement. "These grants will help VA and community organizations reach out and prevent at-risk veterans from losing their homes."

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, had urged the VA to award the grants to the two organizations.

"Veterans have bravely served their country; they shouldn't have to fight poverty and homelessness here at home," DeFazio said.

"St. Vincent de Paul and ACCESS provide invaluable services to help low-income veterans and their families become more stable and self-sufficient," he added. "These VA grants will ensure the men and women who have served our country get the services they need to get back on their feet."

Last month, Easter Seals Oregon was awarded a $200,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Labor to continue its mission of helping homeless veterans in the Rogue Valley rejoin the workforce.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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