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Alaska nonprofits receive federal money to help homeless veterans

Tegan Hanlon

Two Alaska nonprofits have received about $768,000 in federal funding to combat veteran homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded $536,641 to Catholic Social Services based in Anchorage and $231,370 to the Fairbanks Rescue Mission Inc. The total funds coming into the state are just a sliver of the $300 million that the VA allocated to 301 community agencies across the country for fiscal year 2015. The money will unlock on Oct. 1 and help pay for supportive services for very low-income veterans and veteran families, according to a VA press release.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in the release that the funding through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, a VA grant now its fourth year, will help push the federal government toward fulfilling its goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan announced in May that the city would join the nationwide initiative.

According to an annual survey called the Point-In-Time Count, the number of chronically homeless veterans in Alaska dropped nearly 58 percent between 2013 and 2014. 

Citing the snapshot survey, John Pendrey IV, chief of the Health Care for Homeless Veterans Programs with the Alaska VA Healthcare System, said that during the last week of January 2013, 210 chronically homeless veterans lived in Alaska, 166 of those in Anchorage. In 2014, that number decreased to 89 homeless veterans, with 49 living in Anchorage. 

“This (2014) count also indicated that there were not any unsheltered veterans during this annual count,” Pendrey wrote in an email. He added that, to him, this means resources were available to homeless veterans, at least on that day.

At Catholic Social Services, the VA grant money has not only allowed the nonprofit to bump up services for veterans, but also freed up resources for non-veterans, said Stephanie Smithson, director of the Homeless Family Services Program at Catholic Social Services.

Since the VA program launched, Catholic Social Services has received more than $1.8 million -- counting the most recent allocation -- and has helped 418 veteran households. She said 145 of those households were families with children, 58 were female veterans and 360 were male veterans. Moving into the next fiscal year, the nonprofit plans to assist at least 100 veteran households, she said. 

“We’ve depleted all funds every year,” she said.

The funding pays for the equivalent of three full-time case managers at Catholic Social Services and items like rent, moving expenses, security deposits, child care, utility bills, postage, legal fees and job training for qualifying veterans, she said. 

Money from the VA has also allowed Catholic Social Services to expand its operations. It opened an office in Palmer about two years ago that is staffed with one full-time employee who works with homeless veterans and determines their eligibility for the VA grant, said Susan Bomalaski, executive director of Catholic Social Services.​

Without the Valley location, “people would have to travel into our (Anchorage) office, and that’s just not convenient.”

She said to qualify for the VA grant you must be a veteran or member of a family where a veteran is a spouse or the head of the household. The home's annual gross income must fall under 50 percent of the area’s median income. 

This year is the second time the Fairbanks Rescue Mission has received funding through the VA program. Last year, it was awarded $226,838, according to the VA.

The Fairbanks Rescue Mission did not respond to requests for comment. According to its website, a case manager will walk eligible veterans or family members through questions to establish their needs and connect them with other supportive services “to accomplish the goal of housing stability.”

Bomalaski said the outreach part of the grant “has been really helpful.” It allows the nonprofit to partner with agencies in the community looking to hire veterans and connect veterans to the Alaska VA Healthcare System if they are not already. 

“It’s easy for people to come out of the military and get a little lost,” she said.