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Veterans fast-tracked as D.C. homelessness skyrockets

Wednesday - 5/23/2012, 11:47am  ET

Homeless.jpg
Homeless men stand outside the CCNV shelter on D Street in Northwest, just a few blocks from the Verizon Center. (WTOP/Paul D. Shinkman)

Paul D. Shinkman, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - As homelessness among families doubles in the District, dozens of homeless veterans will be fast-tracked to a roof over their heads Wednesday morning in a D.C. Housing Authority event.

The authority hasn't received housing vouchers for non-veteran homeless people in roughly seven years, says Dena Michaelson, spokeswoman for DCHA. But a special joint program between the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development received congressional funding for 60 to 70 homeless veterans, already screened by VA, to participate in the Veterans Assisted Supportive Housing program on Wednesday.

The program received $1.5 million in its most recent funding to add 150 new participants, bringing the total program for housing to 744 veteran families and individuals.

There were 598 families on the wait list for an emergency shelter last year, according to the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and the wait time for an emergency shelter was at least six months.

Michaelson says veterans deserve the preferential treatment.

"It's a priority for the country and it's a priority for us for people who have served (in the military), and need the service to be housed," she says, adding these veterans very possibly are already on the general waiting list.

Almost 145,000 veterans nationwide spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or public housing in 2011, according to VA statistics.

"Congress is continuing to fund new vouchers for veterans because they believe it's an important program," Michaelson says. "We believe it's an important program."

Only pre-approved veterans may participate, and the program has reduced the time it takes to hand over the keys from six months to one month. The program also provides case management and counseling to these veterans.

Homelessness among local families has climbed 40 to 50 percent in the last year, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray told WTOP in April.

"Much of this is a product of the economy," the mayor said.

Unemployment still hovers just under 25 percent in Ward 8 in Southeast, according to the most recent city government statistics. It is lowest in Ward 3, near American University and affluent neighborhoods such as Palisades, at 2.5 percent.

In response, D.C. has developed 1,100 new affordable housing units and another 1,100 are upcoming. The city has also bolstered the rent subsidy fund, and the housing trust fund that provides grants and loans to those who want to build affordable housing.

The fair will be held at 1133 North Capitol Street in Northeast at 11:15 a.m. Only veterans pre-screened by VA may participate.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)