Seaside >> Now that Monterey County mayors have committed to ending veteran homelessness by the end of the year, the focus will be on finding jobs, housing and landlords who accept more veterans into their properties, say two local experts.
The mayors of Carmel, Del Rey Oaks, Gonzales, Greenfield, King City, Marina, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas, Sand City, Seaside and Soledad join a growing national coalition of mayors, governors and county officials in the Joining Forces initiative.
Ending veteran homelessness means having no veterans sleeping on the streets and giving every veteran access to permanent housing.
“A lot of progress has been made, but this needs to be done as a community,” said Terry Bare, executive director of the Veterans Transition Center in Marina. “The housing authority, construction, mayors, supervisors — all need to see the big picture.”
The problem of affordable housing has dogged Monterey County for years. In 2014, only 27 percent of homes were considered affordable in the county based on median household income and current home prices. This exacerbates the issue even more for homeless veterans and their families.
“Our challenge in this area in general is we are in a high-rent, low-wage community that has few vacancies,” said Katherine Thoeni, executive officer of the Coalition of Homeless. “As much as we need affordable housing, that takes time, political will, resources and extensive planning.”
Both Bare and Thoeni say an immediate step would be getting more landlords to rent to veterans and their families, despite possible problems with income and credit history. That’s where the Supportive Services for Veteran Families comes in.
The services ensure veterans are able to pay their rent. It keeps the residences in the property filled and decreases the risk of evictions, Thoeni said. It gives the veteran a chance to be a good neighbor and good tenant. And it builds a way for landlords to give back to the people who have sacrificed for the country, explained Thoeni.
Landlords can call the Housing Resource Center at 424-9186 or the Veterans Resource Center at 375-1184 for more information about the program.
On the state level, money from Proposition 41 is available for new or rehabilitated housing for veterans.
The measure authorized the state to provide local governments, nonprofit organizations and private developers with financial assistance, such as low-interest loans, so that they may construct, renovate and acquire affordable multi-family housing for low-income veterans and their families.
Bare said applications are being submitted to the state to build housing in Marina in the Patton Park area next to Martinez Hall. The area currently has old Army buildings that need to be torn down to make room for veterans and their families.
“Even if we get to functional zero on homeless veterans, we still have people coming back from conflicts, or losing jobs — it doesn’t just stop in 2015,” Bare said. “But the focus will be on preventing vet homelessness as a nation.”
Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio, chair of the Monterey County Mayors Association, said in a prepared statement that “through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, we will partner with our fellow cities, County offices, our local Continuum of Care, veterans groups and other non-profits to do what we can, when we can, to put an end to veteran homelessness in this county.”
Over the past three years, the Obama administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Veterans Administration have partnered with states and communities across the country to achieve a 24 percent decrease in homelessness among veterans.
“The bottom line for me is that we have faith enough to send them out to fight, as a country we should have the faith and confidence that they can be good tenants and neighbors,” Thoeni said.