About six months from now, 100 homeless military veterans in Cook County will have a place to live, thanks to a $760,872 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those 100 vets represent a 55 percent increase in the number of Cook County veterans helped into housing through HUD’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (VASH).
It’s the biggest local increase yet in the program, according to Richard Monochio, the executive director of the Housing Authority of Cook County. “[The program] is doing what it’s supposed to do,” he says. “[It’s] giving these veterans a stable place to help them become self-sufficient.”
The grants provide low-income vets up to 70 percent of the rent for a preapproved private rental (not public housing). But, Monochio adds, help with the rent is just one part of a comprehensive package that includes counseling, job training, and placement. The housing authority partners with Hines Veterans Hospital for those services.
“This program works because it doesn’t just give somebody a voucher and say, ‘Good luck,’” Monochio says. “It gets them in a home and then helps them use their skills to take the next steps.” Until the new round of funding, Cook County had vouchers for 180 veterans; those vets, says Monochio, have been in their homes for two years and have not returned to the streets. “We know it works,” he insists, explaining that, though there is no time limit on the use of vouchers, “we’ve already seen a few veterans graduate out of the program” by landing steady jobs.
Alan Harrell, a Chicagoan who served in the U.S. Army from 1978 to 1981 and later became homeless, has been using a HUD-VASH voucher to defray the cost of his one-bedroom rental for about two years. “It’s just the fact that it brings you in, gets you off the streets,” he says. “It does a good thing for you.”
When it announced the release nationwide of $72.6 million in VASH grants last week, HUD reported that homelessness among military veterans has dropped by about 12 percent—or 8,834 people—in the past two years. About 76,000 veterans are homeless across the country, the Los Angeles Times reported last fall, while also noting that vets make up 8 percent of the nation’s population but 16 percent of its homeless populace.
“It’s a national disgrace,” Monochio says, though he adds that getting veterans housed has become “a national priority”—as evidenced by the boost in HUD-VASH funds at a time when most other federal housing programs are being reduced. Part of the impetus, he says, is that “there are more and more veterans coming back every day.”
Monochio’s agency got official notification of the grant on March 26. “We’re putting the money in play as quickly as we can,” he says. “Our goal is to have all 100 of the new vouchers [for] veterans who are living in apartments within six months.”
Each night, about 14,000 people are homeless in Illinois, and a large proportion of them are in Chicago and Cook County. Using HUD’s 16 percent estimate, that would mean that there are about 2,240 homeless veterans in Illinois. The VASH vouchers are “certainly not enough to meet the need,” Monochio points out, but it’s a start.
Harrell, too, applauds the increased funding. “It’s a no-brainer to give this to veterans,” he says. “You owe them a lot more than you give them.”