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OR Pitches In to End Veterans' Homelessness

PHOTO: An enthusiastic crowd broke ground for the new veterans' housing project in Roseburg. Courtesy of NeighborWorks Umpqua.
PHOTO: An enthusiastic crowd broke ground for the new veterans' housing project in Roseburg. Courtesy of NeighborWorks Umpqua.
November 12, 2012

ROSEBURG, Ore. - One in six homeless people in the United States is a veteran. Oregon groups are helping them access social services and housing in some creative ways, as part of a nationwide push to end homelessness among vets. Last month, construction began in Roseburg for one of the first apartment complexes to be built on Veterans Administration (VA) property.

Betty Tamm, who heads NeighborWorks Umpqua, says the VA offered a 75-year lease on the land and a portion of the funding for the $12 million project. The rest was pieced together from more than a half-dozen sources.

"When you build housing like this, the Veterans Administration has not given us all the money we needed, by any means. The state could get more involved by making sure that they fund this kind of project."

The 54-unit complex, called Eagle Landing, should be open by fall 2013. More than 330,000 military veterans live in Oregon. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates they are 50 percent more likely to become homeless than other Americans.

Tamm says more homeless veterans today are young families or single mothers. Having services available on-site should help them transition to more stable lives, she adds.

"We've heard from the vets themselves that with the camaraderie amongst the group, they can help each other. They feel that support network of being able to look out for each other. It's a very strong bond."

Added to the challenges of readjusting to civilian life, the economic downturn has hit returning soldiers and their families hard. Unemployment or low-wage jobs put typical rental housing or a home purchase out of reach for many.

Brenda Durbin, director of Clackamas County Social Services, says making rental assistance available is key.

"People are not going to be able to address any of their other issues if they don't have a safe, secure place to live, every single night. We do see that many people, in addition to needing that rent assistance, need some case management; they need some mental health assistance; and it's critical to have those two pieces working in concert."

Last weekend, Clackamas County Social Services held its first "Stand Down" event to provide food, clothing, counseling and other resources to veterans. Durbin says more than 50 vets attended.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR