Grant to assist homeless vets

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Fourteen new beds will serve Walla Walla's homeless veterans under a $400,000 federal grant announced Wednesday.

The Walla Walla Housing Authority will use the money from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to buy properties on West Chestnut and West Willow streets.

Structures there will be demolished, and new ones built to house homeless veterans, said Renee Rooker, Housing Authority director.

The grant is one of 65 awarded throughout the country to state, local and tribal governments and nonprofit groups.

About $13.5 million will be spent to enhance transitional housing, support services, outreach and transportation for homeless veterans.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, lauded homeless veterans as ``forgotten heroes'' Wednesday.

``These new facilities and services will make a big difference for those who deserve our respect and support,'' she said in a prepared statement.

``These veterans were there for us, and now we need to be there for them.''Kitsap County was the only other area in Washington to receive a grant. The VA awarded $317,211 for renovation of a building in Retsil, Wash. About 40 beds for homeless veterans will be added there. Money will also be used to create a service center to provide 200 sessions with veterans each month.

Remaining funds will also be used to buy a van to transport homeless veterans.

In Walla Walla, Rooker said the next step is waiting for contracts to arrive from the VA. From there, design work will take place on the new buildings.

Plans for the properties include building a two-story duplex and a single-family home. The houses will be at 1020 W. Chestnut St. and 918 W. Willow St., though Rooker said it has not yet been determined which property will house which structure.

Construction will bring the number of beds for homeless veterans in the Walla Walla area to more than 40.

The homes, including in College Place and Walla Walla, are scattered throughout the communities, offering transitional housing for homeless veterans.

The first duplex opened in College Place in late 1997.

Also serving as transitional housing for those recovering from addiction, the program proved so successful that agencies received more grant funding for beds in 2000.

Operation of the units is a cooperative effort between the Housing Authority, Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Valley Residential Services.

The Housing Authority acts as landlord, while Valley Residential provides clinical care that is ultimately monitored by the local VA, said Chris Oliver, the hospital's health-care coordinator for homeless veterans.

Primary goals for the residents, Oliver said, are ``greater self-determination, greater self-reliance and increased skills and income.''The latest grant will also help ``target a population we haven't been serving a lot of'' in the chronically mentally ill, he said.

According to VA estimates provided by Oliver, an estimated 350 homeless veterans are spread throughout the 14-county area served by Walla Walla's VA hospital.

The VA will foot the bill for about 65 percent of construction of the new buildings. Oliver said a daily rate is also paid for the veterans who reside there. Rooker said the Housing Authority will apply for other grants to help with the costs.

Grants awarded by the federal VA will support 1,153 beds, four independent service centers, eight service centers operating in conjunction with supportive housing and purchase of 21 vans for outreach to or transportation of homeless veterans across the country.

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