Off the street and into housing: Multnomah County and partners help homeless veterans find homes

April 5, 2013

Nearly 300 chronically homeless veterans have moved into housing since November because of joint effort of Multnomah County, the City of Portland and other community organizations.

Operation 305, named for the 305 rental assistance vouchers available when the effort launched, works to bolster housing efforts by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by providing flexible funds to help displaced veterans. Home Forward and the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette are the other local partners in the effort.

The effort ties into a national campaign by VA Sec. Eric Shinseki to end to homelessness among veterans by 2015.

“This is an ambitious goal but it’s a worthy one because nobody who has served our country in uniform should end up homeless and on the streets,” Commissioner Diane McKeel said.

The local success was presented to Multnomah County Commissioners on Thursday, March 21 by representatives from the VA, Home Forward, United Way and JOIN.

Since the partners launched their joint effort in November, veterans have moved from shelters and the streets to apartments throughout the county. The goal is to provide chronically homeless veterans with rental assistance and clinical services to assure they get off the streets, into secure housing, and receive the services and support they need to remain housed.

The program focuses on people who are in the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. Those veterans had rent checks from the VA to spend, but they lacked the money needed for such things as applications and deposits.

Multnomah County, City of Portland, Home Forward and United Way each donated $10,000 so that VA case managers could provide flexible funds to help their clients.

“For the want of even $25 for an application fee, that might make a difference from a veteran having housing and not having housing,” Commissioner Deborah Kafoury said.

JOIN administered the money, which allowed caseworkers to cut down on paperwork. The agency’s involvement also made it easier to cut a check for rental applications or other costs on the same day.

“Asking that landlord to wait a week or two weeks to see a check often is enough to cause that landlord to rent to somebody else,” said Marc Jolin, executive director of JOIN.

Operation 305 has allowed money to be spent on deposits, rent, utility expenses, application fees, transportation and household goods to get veterans needed items for daily living. It has allowed for flexibility, allowing VA workers to decide with their clients how to best use funds. This has helped the veterans compete in a tight housing market. It also helped them convince skeptical landlords to rent to homeless vets.

In response to the effectiveness of Operation 305 Mike Boyd, HUD/VASH coordinator with VA stated, “It would have been absolutely impossible to house these vets at the speed by which we did.”

One of the people housed was a mother of two whose children had to stay with a friend while she was in a shelter. The funds paid for her to apply for an apartment and a background check. She now has housing and her kids are with her, safe and sound.

Jill Riddle, director of rent assistance at Home Forward, said only seven more veterans need to be housed.

The placement rate using the vouchers is well above the national average of 80 percent, she added.

Chair Jeff Cogen and the commissioners lauded Operation 305 as a huge success.

Operation 305 “is a great example of a little, well-targeted money making a huge difference,” Cogen said.