Becky Kempton, 30, is a combat veteran for the Oregon Army National Guard.
Last December, her situation was getting dire. Becky made her son a promise: “We will have a new home by Christmas.”
Thanks to a Veterans Assistance Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher, Becky kept her promise to her eight-year-old, who she calls Nate-O. They are now settled in their new Northeast Portland home, just blocks from his school. They had keys on December 20.
VASH is a federal program funded by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veteran Affairs (VA). The program provides rent assistance for homeless, disabled veterans. The program is administered by Portland’s VA Medical Center and Home Forward. Since the program’s inception in 2008, our community received several allotments of VASH vouchers. By April 2012, our total allotment was 305 veterans housing vouchers. The program has a history of underutilizing these vouchers, intended for homeless veterans, because of hurdles faced by veterans and tight administrative resource.
Staff from Home Forward worked proactively with VA leadership to get the vouchers into the hands of veterans. When they identified a major barrier—no money for security deposits, for example—Home Forward subsidized deposits using flexible rent assistance funds.
Despite their best efforts, by September 2012, the VASH program still had nearly 100 vouchers left. With a charge from Commissioner Nick Fish and Portland Housing Bureau Director Traci Manning, Sally Erickson convened a coalition with a fierce name and an exacting focus. Operation 305, with members from the VA, Home Forward, Multnomah County, and other nonprofits, agreed to get every last voucher in use.
Sally manages the Portland Housing Bureau’s Ending Homelessness team.
Operation 305 quickly identified the remaining barriers to rapidly deploying vouchers. Among them was paying for moving expenses like a bus ticket, an ID card, rental application fees and furnishings. VASH only pays for rent.
In October, the City of Portland, Multnomah County, Home Forward and United Way contributed $10,000 each to cover these small but essential expenses that made a big difference in finding a home. JOIN and Transition Projects administered the funds. The team made a “call to landlords,” to help veterans find willing landlords in a tight rental market. Home Forward even offered a $100 incentive to those who rented to VASH voucher holders.
Without a stable place to call home, Becky couldn't focus on her health and education. “This program is giving me the opportunity to finish schooling and get a career.”
Becky enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in Central Oregon. She was deployed to Iraq in 2007, where she was a driver for a convoy security unit. She says she’s been dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) ever since.
Becky continued her education as a math major at Mt. Hood Community College. As a single mom and student, Becky struggled with her rent and stability. She enjoyed her work study job through the VA, but was overwhelmed by her finances, schoolwork and combat injuries.
“I collapsed and ended up in the hospital with PTSD. I was reliving [combat experiences] every day. Those are things we lock away,” said Becky.
After two weeks in the hospital, Becky could no longer afford her home and moved in with her family.
As a combat veteran, Becky had close ties with a case worker who confirmed that she was eligible for a VASH voucher. Becky wasn’t homeless yet, but she was also not making it on her own.
“There’s a lot of anxiety with PTSD and my case worker made me feel confident that we were going be housed. She was nothing short of amazing in terms of reassuring me,” she said.
When Becky received her VASH voucher, she also got an assist from Home Forward, JOIN and her church, Metro Church in Christ, to get back on her feet. “My case manager checks to see if we need anything and I don’t. It’s a nice feeling to be able to say, ‘I can pay my bills myself’.”
Becky said that she and Nate-O are back on track. She returned to school and keeps up with counseling for PTSD. “We’re doing things we used to enjoy, like jumping on the MAX and wandering around Saturday Market.”
Last month, the very last veteran moved into his new home thanks to a tremendous effort from Operation 305.
Portland Housing Bureau and partners are replenishing the flexible funds that help veterans transition quickly from the street and into homes and our community expects to receive 55 new vouchers this summer.
“We have set the groundwork so that we’re ready to quickly deploy future VASH allocations,” said Sally.
For more information about receiving a VASH voucher, contact The VA’s Community Resource and Referral Center at 308 S.W. First Ave., 503–808-1256 or 1-800-949-1004 Ext. 51256 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For other veteran resources, visit Veterans Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC).
If you are a landlord seeking more information about accepting a veteran with rent assistance, contact Home Forward’s dedicated Landlord Services Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-802-8333, Option 6.