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Tucson finding housing for vets on the streets

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On Flag Day, city officials cut the ribbon on a new housing development for chronically homeless veterans, which includes supportive services to help veterans lead healthy and independent lives.

Homeless veterans will pay 30 percent of their income on a sliding scale for permanent or transitional housing, utilities and support services in the new 44-unit development on Tucson's southeast side, near South Wilmot Road and East Golf Links Road.

The nonprofit Esperanza En Escalante will coordinate on-site services, including case managers, nurses for wellness checks and medication management, transportation to Veterans Affairs health services, and counseling in health and wellness, substance abuse, money management, nutrition and computer training. There's also a community room and a computer lab.

"The beauty about projects like this is they're not just bricks and mortar—they're a community," said city of Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, at the grand opening on June 14. "And they're a community that offers what we in government really like to see, which is wrap-around services."

Real-estate developer Gorman & Company, Inc. partnered with the Arizona Department of Housing, Pima County Community Development, the City of Tucson, the Department of Health and Human Services, Esperanza En Escalante and about 15 other organizations in the public and private sectors to bring the $9 million project to life.

The property is built on donated federal land. Pima County pitched in $1 million from a 2004 bond program, which helped fund the development's infrastructure, like surrounding streets and underground utilities. The Arizona Department of Housing put in about $7.5 million from tax credits that the state set aside for supportive-housing projects for chronically-homeless populations.

ADOH Assistant Deputy Director Andrew Rael commended all the groups involved for being continually dedicated to affordable housing.

"Projects like this don't bring in a lot of money, and they're very expensive to operate," he said, at the opening. "It takes all the partners that we've talked about today to make them work. And not only putting that partnership together but keeping it together not only for the construction, but the operation for 30 years."

Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez said the development was a great investment of federal and local public funds, approved by voters.

"The veterans that are going to be served by this project guaranteed the freedoms that we enjoy today," he said. "Let's guarantee that they have the hope in their lives to make their lives better."

The development is already half-full of occupants and will be completely full within 30 days of the opening, said Brian Swanton, Gorman & Company, Inc.'s Arizona president, in an interview. After they reach full occupancy, homeless veterans will be put on a waiting list.

Doing better by our veterans

The housing development is part of former President Barack Obama's 2013 initiative 25 Cities Effort, to combat veteran homelessness. In the last three-and-a-half years, Tucson government, nonprofits and businesses have supported programs that housed over 2,100 formally homeless veterans, as part of this effort.

Also, for the first time in four years, the number of homeless veterans fell below 285 to 243, according to Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness, the nonprofit that secures federal funding for homeless outreach every year.

One organization that assists homeless veterans is Tucson Veterans Serving Veterans, which sponsored a resource fair, on June 13 to assist at-risk veterans.

Veterans received free haircuts, food, legal services, mental-health counseling, pet care, employment opportunities and their pick from 1,000 pounds of clothes donated that day.

There were 57 agencies offering information and services, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, housing programs, Veterans Affairs, Happy Feet (which attends to homeless veterans' feet), employers and Rally Point, which represents veterans in court.

Volunteers connected one homeless veteran with an application to the new housing development and another with transitional housing. Another five veterans arrived to find out they were receiving housing through agencies they'd been working with.

Of the more than 100 people that showed up, 28 were homeless veterans, some who had been off the radar for a while. Tucson Veterans keeps track of homeless veterans in town and actively works to find them housing. They also added 15 new people to their list of veterans who need housing and assessed them to see what other services they needed.

More homeless veterans are getting into housing due in-part to Housing First, a model implemented in conjunction with the 25 Cities Effort. It means people's housing needs are addressed first, regardless of any substance abuse or mental-health issues. Rothschild works with 14 outreach agencies that follow this model, and the new housing development will as well.

"With all that we can do in the way of social services, unless you have bricks and mortar, you're not going to be able to put people in homes," Rothschild said at the opening for the new development. "This project behind us is a great example of getting 44 more folks into homes."

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