After arriving home from the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, the last thing most veterans want is to have to fight the Battle of the Bureaucracy to get help with housing.
To that end, the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living is starting a program to aid veterans with disabilities to obtain or keep housing. The program, funded by a $152,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is designed to assist veterans in Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Monroe and Carbon counties, according to Amy Beck, executive director of the Center for Independent Living.
"The Supportive Services for Veterans' Families is a program designed to stablize veterans' familes who are homeless or at risk for homelessness," Beck said at a news conference Friday.
To be eligible for services, the veteran or someone in the veteran's family must have a disability -- mental or physical. They also must meet one of these three criteria:
- Have a dependent child under age 1 OR
- Make 30 percent or less of the area's median income OR
- Be a veteran of the Iraq or Afghan wars
The program will help veterans navigate bureaucracy to tap into such assistance as subsidized housing or veterans-related aid.
"There is also a small amount of funds in the program for temporary financial assistance, depending on the situation," Beck said. That might include providing money for a security deposit on an apartment, for example.
"Sometimes coming up with the first month's down payment or first month's rent can be extremely difficult," she said.
Affordable housing in the region remains a problem, Beck said. "Your monthly income could match what your one-bed room apartment is," she said.
The program begins Oct. 1, and the center hopes to serve at least 50 families this year.
Those working with the veterans and their families will also help them access Veterans Affairs benefits, help with life skills, such as budgeting, and landlord-tenant mediation.
The numbers of homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness are growing, according to a 2011 report in USA Today. A federal study found that 13,000 of the country's homeless in 2010 were ex-service members between the ages of 18 and 30, the story said.
Center for Independent Living staff said they have worked with disabled veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. "Their numbers are increasing in rural populations, which is part of the reason we chose Carbon and Monroe and some of those outlying areas," said Kristy Gehman, the center's director of Core & Housing Services.
Eladio Gonzalez, community support coordinator for the center, said they've already heard from about 10 veterans who learned about the grant and are seeking help.
For more information call: 610-770-9781
Among those attending the news conference, were Bill Royer, aide to state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-134th, and Jason Lane, aide to R-15.
Beck thanked the Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council, the VA Medical Center in Scranton and Allentown Outpatient Clinic, Victory House and Treatment Trends for their help with the grant.
The Center for Independent Living works with people with disabilities to help them lead productive lives, free from barriers, according to its web site.