A federal program credited with decreasing Oklahoma City's population of homeless veterans stands to grow.
Forty homeless Oklahoma City veterans will be eligible for housing vouchers after an injection of cash from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The city's Housing Authority will receive $142,857 for the vouchers for a 4-year-old federal program aimed at permanently housing homeless veterans, an authority official said Wednesday.
Richard Marshall, director of leased housing, said it will be the fifth time since 2008 the program has received federal funding for Oklahoma City's homeless veterans.
The housing assistance is provided through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, which is administered by HUD, the VA and local public housing agencies across the country.
Dan Straughan, executive director of The Homeless Alliance, said numbers from the city's annual point-in-time count of the homeless suggest the program is behind a significant drop in the population of local homeless veterans.
Pam Stark, one of five supportive housing program case managers working at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, said 130 Oklahoma City homeless veterans received vouchers since 2008 and 100 of those are now leasing a residence. The latest funding could bring the number of homeless veterans with vouchers to 185.
Straughan said the program has had noticeable impact in Oklahoma City. The number of homeless veterans counted in the city limit has dropped from 228 individuals in 2009 to 110 in 2012, a drop of about 52 percent.
It's easier to house veterans since the supportive housing program was instituted, Marshall said.
The waiting list for the federal government's Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program has been closed in Oklahoma City since December 2010, Marshall said. Under Section 8, the disabled, low-income families or the elderly who meet certain criteria can use vouchers from local housing authorities to rent dwellings like homes, duplexes, mobile homes or apartments from willing landlords whose properties meet certain health and safety requirements. Recipients of the vouchers have to contribute a portion of their income.
Section 8 housing remains open to homeless veterans under the supportive housing program, and the qualifications are less stringent, Marshall said. Veterans with criminal histories — except sex offenders who must register for life — are not denied the vouchers, for example.
“It's grown our capability to be able to house homeless veterans more quickly,” Marshall said.
Getting homeless veterans off the streets is not without significant challenges.
To use the housing voucher program at the VA, veterans have to be willing to accept case management and rules set by the government, like home visits with a social worker and drug screenings.
“Some people just don't want to do that,” said Linda Carpenter-Rhodes, a case manager with the supportive housing program
Another challenge has been finding landlords willing to accept the homeless veterans.