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Tucson one of 25 cities working to house homeless vets by 2015

Tucson has been named by the Obama administration as one of 25 cities across the nation to take the lead in eliminating homelessness among military veterans by 2015.  This initiative will be accomplished by a ramped-up effort from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and local public-private partnerships, said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.  

Tucson has 353 homeless veterans, down from about 500 two years ago, Rothschild said, announcing the effort last week.

The goal of the city is to get 52 veterans off the street a month, and to cut the processing time for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers in half, from 40 days to 20 days, said spokeswoman Lisa Markkula in a news release.

“We have all the elements we need here to be successful,” Rothschild said. “We have leadership at the local level, we have nonprofits focused on housing and supportive services, we have major military installations, we have a strong VA hospital and more importantly we have a community that cares about and respects our veterans.”

In 2009, President Obama began a nationwide initiative to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.  Since, the number of homeless veterans has dropped 17.2 percent nationwide, and for fiscal year 2013 the VA has allocated $1.4 billion toward solving this problem, said the VA website for the initiative.

For local taxpayers, there is no additional cost for this initiative, Markkula said.

One key organization in this fight here in Tucson is the local VA, Rothschild said.

“The difference [from past efforts to end homelessness among veterans] is that we are intensifying our efforts and we are increasing the number of staff that we have that can help with finding housing for the homeless,” said Jodi Frederick, the VA clinical director of rehabilitation programs here in Tucson. “So what we did before was very good and what we are doing now is increasing and intensifying.”

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The first priority of the VA is the “chronic homeless,” who is someone who has been homeless for a year or has been homeless four times within the last three years, Frederick said. The VA has several options for the homeless, from housing vouchers to transitional housing.

Currently, the VA here in Tucson has 465 housing vouchers and will be receiving 75 more, Frederick said. These vouchers are provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Veterans who are homeless or homeless with families with them may be able to receive a voucher if they meet the requirements of both the VA and HUD, including the length of time homeless, disabilities and other factors. Once a veteran becomes eligible they are given permanent housing and services related to any disabilities, according to the VA Homeless Veterans website.

48,385 housing vouchers have been awarded nationwide since 2008, said the HUD website.

Other organization involved in this initiative, here in Tucson, are CODAC, Compass, City of Tucson Housing, the city police and fire departments, DM50, the American Red Cross and the Veteran Administration.  

"No one here is under any illusion that this will be easy, but it is doable and it is something we must do," Rothschild said.  

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Ryan Revock/TucsonSentinel.com

Mayor Rothschild speaks on ending veteran homelessness in Tucson by 2015. Tucson is one of 25 cities selected to pilot the effort.