After experiencing several financial hardships, Marine Corps Veteran Larry Nelson moved into low-cost housing. His Florida home turned out to be unsafe. He experienced sleepless nights as rats ran through the house and he had his money stolen.
A cousin in Colorado who came to visit and check in on Nelson realized how dire the situation was and called the Ocala Veterans Affairs Clinic for help. Social worker Bobbie Shaw was assigned to Nelson’s case. She leapt into action when she heard Nelson’s story.
Shaw knew that Nelson needed a safe place to live, so her first thought was to enroll him in the HUD-VASH program, which would give him a voucher to make market-rate housing affordable.
At the time, HUD-VASH vouchers could be used only for individual housing, such as an apartment. There were no options for HUD-VASH voucher use in congregate settings.
Group setting preferable after stroke
Shaw and Nelson realized that, because of his age and his diminished ability to care for himself following stroke, he would feel more comfortable living in a group setting. So Shaw instead found an independent family care home for Nelson that perfectly suited his needs.
Through its programs, such as HUD-VASH, VA has developed solid partnerships with nonprofit housing facilities, like VFW Veteran’s Village, to address the specific needs of older Veterans.
Nelson lived comfortably at the family care home for a few years. When the owner died from the coronavirus in 2020, the quality of the home took a sharp decline. Nelson was once again living in unsafe conditions.
Shaw realized it was time to change course in finding a suitable home for Nelson. She decided to revisit the possibility of getting him a HUD-VASH voucher that would meet his needs.
Creating innovative ways to house older Veterans
“Recently, HUD-VASH has been promoting the use of vouchers to assist with congregate living situations,” Shaw said. “Those include assisted living facilities and adult foster homes. The local housing authority determines eligibility for rental assistance, issues the voucher and processes the lease. It also makes the monthly payments. It has to agree to let you use the voucher for congregate living.”
Shaw saw Nelson’s situation as an opportunity to advocate for older Veterans like him. She petitioned the Ocala Housing Authority to explore a new housing option – congregate settings – that would allow them to serve more Veterans while retaining older Veterans in the HUD-VASH program.
“Rather than discharging Veterans requiring congregate housing from the HUD-VASH program and asking them to search for a family home they couldn’t afford, we could keep them in the HUD-VASH program, move them to a congregate living facility, and provide them with additional support services,” Shaw added.
“The Village was built almost 30 years ago. Veterans have their own room and have meals provided for them,” said Al Lugo, executive director of VFW Veteran’s Village. “They have access to anything they need here, including a community of other Veterans. We like to call the Village a cruise ship on land.”
With support from VA social workers like Shaw, VFW Veteran’s Village has been able to increase the number of residents and provide wraparound services. Physical and occupational therapists, doctors and even barbers come to VFW Veteran’s Village to make services accessible to all Veterans.
Through its programs, such as HUD-VASH, VA has developed solid partnerships with nonprofit housing facilities – like VFW Veteran’s Village – to address the specific needs of older Veterans.
Through their combined efforts, Veterans like Nelson can secure the safe and stable housing they have earned and deserve.
“I didn’t know VA could help me with this kind of thing,” said Nelson. “My cousin is my hero. I am so happy.”
Read more about the HUD-VASH program to determine if you are eligible to receive rental assistance.
Veterans who are homeless or at risk for homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).