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Homeless vets secure housing through VASH program

Chuck Gowan settles into a new Greenwood apartment with help from VA, Seattle Housing and supportive landlord

SEATTLE—May 28, 2009—Working together closely, staff from the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and the Seattle Housing Authority are succeeding in placing homeless veterans and their families into housing. Often their efforts are providing much-needed stability for veterans who have struggled with health issues and homelessness for years.

Recently Chuck Gowan, a 62-year-old ex-Marine, moved into a sunny apartment in Greenwood, close to bus lines and other amenities. The Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (VASH) helped to make this possible by connecting Gowan with a willing landlord and providing the supportive services he needs to succeed as a tenant.

Gowan read about VASH in a column by Robert L. Jamieson Jr. in the Seattle P-I last November. He called the VA to ask whether he was eligible, and was accepted into the program.

Tom Hermann, a landlord who has worked with Seattle Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program for several years, wanted to do something for veterans—something to acknowledge and thank them for their service to the country. He called Mike Jung, the landlord liaison for the SHA's Housing Choice Voucher Program, to ask whether he knew of any special programs to help get homeless veterans into housing.

Chuck Gowan, resident of new housing using VASH voucher

Chuck Gowan has settled into his new Greenwood apartment.

Jung referred Hermann to the VA Puget Sound Health Care System for information about the VASH program, and to Toni Manjarrez, an occupancy supervisor in the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Manjarrez worked with Kim Brown, a social worker with the VA’s Health Care System, to identify a good prospective tenant, and quickly put Gowan and landlord Hermann together . Brown, who knows Gowan well, interviewed Hermann and checked out the apartment, and said that in her opinion Gowan would be a good fit for Hermann’s building.

A condition of participating in the VASH program is that vets continue to avail themselves of the VA’s clinical and caseworker services. Vets referred to SHA and to potential landlords are carefully screened, and their suitability as tenants for a given building or community is affirmed. Only then is a voucher issued to the veteran. From time to time caseworkers visit vets in their new apartments to see for themselves how things are going.

For his part, Hermann discussed a few concerns with VA caseworkers. Would a VASH tenant fit in with the other tenants in his 12-unit building? Would the VA continue to provide needed services and assistance to the tenant?

His concerns were lessened when he met Gowan in person. He was drawn to Gowan’s openness and willingness to share the circumstances of his illness, he said recently, and was reassured when Gowan’s caseworker pronounced him a good fit.

Gowan was born in California and spent many years in the film industry there and elsewhere. He said recently that “Tom is the best landlord I’ve ever had.” He is also optimistic about the stability that permanent housing has brought to his life, commenting that, “Having a decent home has boosted my confidence—now I can really start dealing with my problems.”

Hermann is no less pleased, both with his new tenant and with the program. He praised Toni Manjarrez for her ability to get things done in a hurry. He wrote her to thank her and to praise other SHA and VA staffers who’d made the process smooth and efficient.

Seattle Housing Authority was awarded 52 VASH vouchers last year as a result of efforts by Senator Patty Murray and others in Congress. She secured $75 million for new vouchers to help 10,070 homeless veterans across the country, including 250 in Washington State. According to Murray, "No one who has fought and sacrificed for our nation should ever have to come home and sleep on our streets. Our veterans are our nation's heroes and our country needs to be doing everything we can to ensure they have housing and the dignity that comes with it."

A few of them are still available to connect veterans in need of housing with the right landlord.