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HUD certifies Austin has ended homelessness among veterans

The secretary of the federal housing department will certify Friday that Austin has ended veteran homelessness, becoming the third major city in Texas to do so.

“The folks in Austin should be proud that through community collaboration — the public sector, the private sector and the nonprofit sector — that so many more veterans have been housed than before,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who will be joined by Austin Mayor Steve Adler for the announcement at City Hall. “Now that the community has shown how to do this on veteran homelessness, they should do the same for chronic homelessness.”

Using a variety of federal programs and some privately raised funds, the city has provided housing for 682 veterans since October 2014.

The victory, though, comes with a caveat. The certification doesn’t mean that Austin will never have a homeless veteran. Instead, it means that the city has established a system to ensure there is sufficient housing for veterans and that future periods of homelessness are brief and rare.

According to federal guidelines, a city can be certified as having ended veterans’ homelessness if it can show it has ended chronic homelessness or that all of its veterans are on track to receive housing within 90 days. Adler announced in December that Austin had reached that benchmark.

Providing housing, Castro said, is the first step toward getting these veterans the services they need to get back on their feet.

“The cities that have ended veterans’ homelessness have all adopted ‘Housing First’ strategies,” Castro said, referring to programs that focus first on getting the homeless people into housing and then dealing with their medical or social service needs. “Vouchers are the most effective way.”

Austin has been helping the veterans with funding from two sources — HUD housing vouchers and the Veterans Administration’s Supportive Housing program, which helps to provide needed mental and physical health services.

Austin has received 454 of these vouchers, city officials said. That’s fewer than the two other major Texas cities also certified by the federal government for ending veteran homelessness: Houston received 1,127, while San Antonio got 490. The city is also housing veterans using a variety of other federal programs, city officials added.

Manuel Moran, 48, an Army veteran, received housing through the program in March.

Before that, the father of two said he had been homeless for about year after a knee injury and then a dislocated ankle left him unable to continue his job as a security guard and bar back at a local bar. He was evicted from his home and spent several months on a friend’s couch before he ended up living in a wooded area in Southeast Austin for a month. During that time, his kids stayed with a family friend because he didn’t want them living on the streets, he said.

After applying for the program last October, Moran was moved into an apartment in South Austin in March, where his teenage kids now have their own rooms. He pays for the apartment with a voucher and the money he makes as a day laborer.

He said having an apartment has improved his living situation. Now his knee problems don’t bother him as much, and he’s been able to apply for steady employment. He recently got a job offer from a food manufacturing company.

“We’re happy,” he said. “We’ve got four walls around us, a roof over their heads, the kids have their own rooms, and the pantry and refrigerator have food. It’s made (life) a whole lot better.”

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