By Lora Zuo
The HUD-VASH program is a partnership between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to provide subsidized housing vouchers for eligible homeless veterans. Ruth, a former combat correspondent for the U.S. Marine Corps, is now a homeless advocate in Cleveland, and James is an older veteran who is currently receiving assistance with his housing through the program
Her HUD-VASH voucher, she. Editor’s Note: We have changed the first name of the two participants to guard their privacy.
Previously homeless for two a half years, Ruth is now living comfortably in an apartment with her dog and two cats. There is no doubt in her mind that, without her HUD-VASH voucher, she would still be on the streets. The case management provided by HUD-VASH is Ruth’s saving grace.
James say that it help him out in maintaining housing and found out about the program while staying at 2100 Lakeside shelter. He said that,” Everyone was helpful,” and was especially thankful that a Veterans Affairs staff person came with him to find housing. The staff helped him complete the paperwork and make sure that all his documents were together in to speed the processing with the Housing Authority.
Many times veterans come out of service with no knowledge whatsoever of tenant responsibilities and requirements. The HUD-VASH caseworkers navigate these waters for the veterans and aid in their search of housing. Every veteran has an individualized case plan. Their case managers work to provide counseling services, referrals, program documentation, and more. They also track the progress of their clients along the way and follow up whenever needed.
Ruth’s personal caseworker, Raquelle Russell, has certainly gone above and beyond her duty to help Ruth in developing individualized goals, completing the Public Housing Authority application process, and accessing needed services and supports. In 2013, Ruth’s mom was hospitalized for four months. Her health was deteriorating, and she could not consent to surgery in her current state mind. As a result, Ruth stepped in to give consent in place of her mother. While Ruth was meeting with doctors, signing paperwork, and negotiating her mother’s treatment, she missed her recertification date for housing.
All tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers, including HUD-VASH, must be annually recertified to ensure that they meet income eligibility. Ruth, unable to meet that deadline, was in danger of termination. However, Ms. Russell, her caseworker, quickly stepped in and contracted CMHA for appeal paperwork. She salvaged the situation by her prompt response and effective management. Ruth presented her mother’s death certificate at a later hearing and won the case.
There are around 325 VASH vouchers being utilized in Cuyahoga County and another smaller group in Summit County. The program offers case management from the VA system along with the Vouchers offered by the Public Housing Authority. It got off to a rocky start with these two huge bureaucracies trying to work together. The program was criticized in Congress because many communities were not distributing the vouchers in a timely manner. Cuyahoga County officials are now averaging around 95% utilization.
Quite evidently, the HUD-VASH program has been essential to Ruth’s wellbeing, but Ruth also believes that certain step should be taken to improve the services of HUD-VASH. For one, Ruth pointed out the lack of education in CMHA staff workers. Better informed caseworkers lead to better communication between case manager and client. In another case, a landlord asked inappropriate questions to Ruth about her voucher eligibility. He violated fair housing rights by questioning the specifics of her health situation, leading Ruth to believe that landlords should be better informed as well. There are many misconceptions about homeless veterans. Many people assume anybody with a voucher is a drug user and that homelessness is synonymous with laziness. Ruth refutes these beliefs and argues that, in many cases, people have just fallen on hard times or simply ran out of luck. She wishes to change that and sees a bright future for HUD-VASH.
Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Street Chronicle, October 2014 Cleveland, Ohio