Celebrating Operation 305's efforts to help Multnomah County veterans find a place to call home

July 2, 2013

Military veteran Becky Kempton survived serving in the Iraq war and providing relief to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But after the military policewoman returned to civilian life, she and her son Nathan found themselves on the brink of homelessness.

“Our living situation was super-stressful constantly,” says Kempton, 30.

Help was available through federal housing vouchers, but there were technical barriers to tapping that help. “We were never eligible because we weren’t chronically homeless,“ she says.

On Monday, July 1, dozens of Portland area veteran and housing experts gathered to celebrate lifting those barriers. Since Veterans Day 2012, Operation 305 has helped at least 305 veterans receive the housing benefits they are entitled to from their military service.

Kempton says once the barriers were lifted, she received a voucher in December and she and her son moved into a new home a couple weeks later. She is now back in school pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and her son is thriving in third grade.

“It’s allowing us to succeed,” she says of the program.

The Operation 305 celebration at Bud Clark Commons featured County Commissioners Deborah Kafoury and Diane McKeel; City Commissioners Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman; and Home Forward Commissioner David Kelleher. Eileen Devine of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Sally Erickson of the city Housing Bureau also spoke.

Veterans are much more likely than others to become homeless. While veterans make up only 8 percent of the population in the United States, 16 percent of homeless people are veterans, according to Veterans Affairs.

They face additional struggles when trying to create a stable life after serving such as poverty, job loss, and mental or physical disabilities stemming from their exposure to war zones.

Since 2008, help has been available through the Veterans Assistance Supportive Housing (VASH) program. This rental assistance is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veteran Affairs.

But acquiring a place to live requires more than just rent, experts say. Many veterans were stymied by poor credit scores, or a lack of cash for a deposit. Others couldn’t afford application fees, transportation costs and furnishing expenses.

Operation 305 — which stands for the 305 VASH vouchers available in the Portland area — assists veterans in covering the extra costs it takes to acquire housing. The initiative was created in partnership between the Portland Housing Bureau, Multnomah County, Home Forward and United Way, who together, started a $40,000 pool of flexible funds to help vets over those small hurdles.

“As the proud mother of a Marine,’’ County Commissioner McKeel says she sees that servicemembers and their families need support during and after deployment.

“Operation 305 is a big step forward toward meeting our goal to end veteran homelessness,” McKeel says. “Together we will continue to work hard so that those who have served our country have a roof over their head and a place to call home.”

“It’s a celebration of the power of partnerships in our community,” says Commissioner Fish, who has served the last five years as the city’s housing commissioner.

“Individually we can make only so much of a difference, but when we all link arms: government, business, nonprofit, we can do great things.”

Because of the combined efforts put forth by the city and other community partnerships, 150 landlords have now embraced the program and an additional 55 VASH vouchers have been secured for veterans.

“We’re doing our part toward the president’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015,” Fish says. “Until every veteran has a place to call home we won’t stop. That’s our goal.”

County Commissioner Kafoury says that the Fourth of July is also an excellent time to honor veterans. Her own family is starting a new tradition to put together “Welcome Home” move-in kits for the veterans and their new homes.

“It’s really wonderful that we’re able to get these veterans into permanent housing and off the street,” Kafoury says. “But just an extra added something is when the community embraces them when they return home…and lets them know we appreciate what they have done for our country. We respect them and we’re here to help.”

Operation 305 is collecting household items for the “Welcome Home” move-in kits throughout the month of July. Donations can be brought to Bud Clark Commons Day Center, 665 N.W. Hoyt St., Portland, until July 31.

PHOTOS: View a gallery from the Operation 305 celebration