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Homeless vets: Local housing efforts need bipartisan federal support
Author: By Nick Fish and Margaret VanVliet
Posted: January 31, 2011

As housing leaders in Portland, we're encouraged by the Obama administration's pledge to end homelessness among our brave veterans within five years. In a recent commentary piece in The Oregonian ("A promise left unfulfilled," Jan. 22), Rep. Greg Walden got it right: "Veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and we cannot turn our back on them." 

Homeless under the Hawthorne
The numbers tell a sobering story. Nationally, there are more than 100,000 homeless veterans; half of them are veterans of Vietnam. In Portland, more than 150 veterans sleep on our streets each night. 

To win this fight, we need all hands on deck. That means a bipartisan commitment in Washington to fully fund the programs that work to end homelessness. We're willing to do our part at the local level. But we need a strong federal partner if we are to be successful. 

One of our most promising tools is the VASH voucher program, administered by the Veterans Affairs Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and local housing authorities. A VASH voucher is the gold standard of vouchers -- combining a permanent home with the services veterans' need to get back on their feet. 

Right now in Portland, 105 of these vouchers are in use, and 90 more -- specifically for the veterans with the greatest barriers -- are in the pipeline. The VA has partnered with local nonprofits Northwest Pilot Project and Transition Projects Inc. to help veterans find homes. To address the shortage in affordable housing, the city of Portland is investing in new homes -- and preserving at-risk homes. This spring, REACH CDC will break ground on a new housing development in South Waterfront with apartments dedicated to formerly homeless veterans, and the Resource Access Center, to be named for former Mayor Bud Clark, will open in June. The city is investing more than $60 million in these projects alone. 

We're grateful for the support we receive from Oregon's congressional delegation to address homelessness. But during a time of rising need and tight budgets, we can't expect our cities, counties and states to solve a national problem. 

Our veterans volunteered to keep America safe; we owe them nothing less than a national commitment to keep them safe. Last year, Congress adjourned without acting on a modest request to add $50 million to the VASH program. A drop in the bucket in a $3.8 trillion budget, it would have served an additional 6,000 veterans. 

While Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden supported the bill, not enough of their colleagues stepped up to join them. 

This isn't a partisan issue. It's time for Democrats and Republicans to work with the administration to increase funding for the VASH program -- and to keep faith with our homeless veterans. 


Nick Fish is the Portland commissioner in charge of the Portland Housing Bureau. Margaret VanVliet is director of the bureau.