Tribes Say VA Not Doing Enough for Homeless Indian Veterans

Written by Mark Fogarty.

- Indian Country Today

Tribes have been complaining to their senators that one of two federal agencies supposed to be battling the issue of homeless Indian veterans together hasn’t been holding up its end.

The federal government ended a disparity between Public Housing Agencies and Indian Housing Agencies recently by making IHAs eligible for the first time to participate in the HUD-VASH program (the acronym stands for Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing). The idea was to have a joint federal agency program, with HUD providing housing vouchers and VA providing supportive services for Native vets.

 

However, trying to get two government agencies to work together in their heavily siloed territories doesn’t always work smoothly. And Sens. John Tester (D-MT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) have been hearing from their Indian constituents that the VA has been lax in providing the supportive services.

The two have called on VA Secretary David Shulkin to put more spin on the ball when it comes to the supportive services and case management the VA is supposed to be providing. They want a report on each of the 26 areas where HUD announced HUD-VASH demonstration programs last year.

They are also asking to hear about any barriers to effectively implementing the program VA may be experiencing.

The senators noted that Indians serve in the military in the highest percentage of any group in America, and also that the percentage of homeless Indian veterans is high.

They pointed out HUD-VASH is supposed to provide rental assistance, supportive services and case management, but they are hearing that VA case managers often haven’t been hired or the job is assigned to an existing VA officer who already has other duties.

Then-HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced the program early last year, awarding $6 million in vouchers to the 26 designated areas.

Sen. Tester is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Sen. Udall is vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Supportive housing is a rising concept in dealing with homelessness. The idea is that getting a homeless person into a rental unit does not solve all their problems. In this demo project, the supportive services are supposed to include substance abuse treatment, mental health care, job training, and other housing assistance.

One example of an Indian project (done before the HUD-VASH program) that provides supportive services is the I-Sah’-Din-Dii’ development at the Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico. The 30-unit project featured child care, employment services and health services built into its blueprint. It was not designed exclusively for veterans.

Another example of a tribally-developed project is one done at the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. The Nation has opened a $1.5 million facility to aid Ho-Chunk homeless Indian veterans.

The Sii Wonazi Hocira project built 10 one-apartment units of 650 square feet each for homeless Indian veterans. The Black River Falls-area development not only gives homeless or those in danger of becoming homeless Indian veterans a roof over their heads, but it connects them with an array of social services.