House our Heroes Program Welcomes Homeless Veterans Home
Alamo Community Group (ACG) gets lots of calls every day from individuals and families seeking affordable housing. But one inquiry three years ago resonated through the company’s San Antonio, Texas, offices.
On the other end of the line was a community services agency asking if ACG could provide a home for a working military veteran, his wife and five kids who had nowhere else to go. ACG Deputy Director Tina Aranda, who has worked in affordable housing for 12 years, remembers the call.
“We have a vet family, they are living in their van, seven people. Do you have anything for them?” she recounted. “So, we said okay, we have a 3-bedroom, and let’s put them in and figure out how we do it later. It was one of those desperate needs and we didn’t quite know how we were going to do it, but we’ll figure it out.”
The veteran had just rejoined his family and had a job, but was barely making ends meet without the overhead of an apartment. Once the family was settled, ACG began working with many of the local agencies in San Antonio that assists veterans and found a way to cover the first two months of rent to help the family get on its feet.
“Through this experience, we quickly realized there was a great need for more affordable housing opportunities for families with incomes who were homeless, currently living with friends, family or in their vehicles,” Aranda said. “We quickly began searching for local opportunities to combat this issue.”
The result was ultimately the creation of ACG’s House Our Heroes Veterans Assistance Program, which is making a difference in the Lone Star State.
House Our Heroes Builds Foundation
The House Our Heroes Veterans Assistance Program provides stable housing, extensive supportive services to include outreach and case management, as well as temporary financial assistance to homeless veterans and veteran families at-risk of homelessness. ACG partners with local organizations such as the American G.I. Forum, the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless and the South Texas Veterans Health Care System to reach veterans who need this assistance.
Through a $269,000 Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) grant in 2011, ACG began providing the assistance. The 501©(3) non-profit housing provider was awarded the grant again in 2012, and subsequently has assisted about 550 veterans and family members by helping cover the first couple of months of rent. Since then, ACG has worked with local agencies to continue assistance for families in need.
Waiving some of the upfront application fees and deposits helped move needy veterans in more quickly.
“When you first move into an apartment all the initial expenses add up.” Aranda said. “Utility deposits and other fees can add additional burden on families who are trying to quickly move out of difficult situations.”
Many residents come in with only the clothes on their backs, and having rent covered provides an opportunity for them to purchase necessary items like beds and linens and furniture. Prospective families must pass a credit and criminal background check, as well as provide proof of adequate household income.
Providing Housing Solutions for At-Risk Demographic
Since that phone call in 2011, ACG has made a commitment to serving a demographic that had gained attention in recent years.
Since 1990, AGC has worked with military personnel who have recently left the service and are starting civilian life either by themselves or with a new family. ACG — a chartered member of the national network of community based organizations NeighborWorks® America — currently owns 1,392 multifamily units at 10 properties in San Antonio, Kirby and Universal City. All ACG communities serve households with incomes less than 80 percent of the area median income.
Aranda says that providing a solution at the moment of inquiry often is critical to accommodating a demographic that has a long-term homeless history.
Many veterans are at risk of falling into homelessness after leaving the military for a number of reasons, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans says about 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
The Veterans Administration has made considerable progress to reduce the number of homeless veterans since 2009 and is winding down a campaign to end veteran homelessness by 2015. From 2009-13, the number of homeless veterans has dropped almost 24 percent.
For the second straight year, ACG is making a point to build homeless veterans awareness by hosting its House Our Heroes SA 5K Run in September at Woodlawn Lake Park. The race, which drew a few hundred last year, circles Woodlawn Lake in the century-old San Antonio Park.
Working with Education and Community Building Programs
After the grant expired in 2013, ACG began working more closely with other local organizations like the American GI Forum and Family Endeavors, which provide temporary financial assistance. While ACG no longer offers direct financial assistance, the organization strives to provide a high level of affordable housing that is essential to decreasing homelessness.
ACG provides on-site educational and community building programs through it community learning centers. The programs and services allow residents the opportunity to take advantage of educational and asset building activities without the barriers of time and transportation.
So far, performance of the program has been tracking well. Aranda said that 82 percent of the veterans who have moved in through the House Our Heroes program maintain self-sufficiency and remain within the community.
That’s a pretty good hero’s welcome.
(Image source: Shutterstock)