In January, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales announced an ambitious goal of housing all homeless veterans by Veterans Day this year — November 11. The White House set out in 2009 to house vets nationwide by the end of 2015. Recently, city housing officials have said the Portland deadline will align with the national one. Sally Erickson with the Portland Housing Bureau says that the regional effort has resulted in approximately 600 veterans being housed since April of 2014, but she estimates there are still many remaining without permanent housing.
“On a given night more than 400 veterans are homeless either on the street or in emergency shelter or temporary housing,” Erickson said.
This week volunteers are canvassing the Multnomah County Central Library, Sisters of the Road Cafe and other places where veterans go to receive services. They hope to develop a registry of names and a way to get in touch with veterans who still need housing.
One of the biggest challenges to reaching the goal is finding available and affordable units in a very expensive housing market. Another challenge is convincing many veterans that they would benefit from help.
“Many people who served in peacetime and didn’t see combat don’t identify themselves because they fall in that between time,” said Alex Glover, Veterans Services Director for Transitions Project, a large homeless shelter in Portland.
Randy Vickary, a veteran who served from 1984 until 1990, was one of those veterans who didn’t realize he could benefit from the city’s goal of housing veterans.
“A friend of mine told me to go down to the community veteran’s center and they’re the ones who told me, ‘Yes, you are considered a veteran,’” Vickary said.
Vickary became homeless about five years ago, after getting carpal tunnel in both of his wrists and losing his job.
“Things went downhill from there,” Vickary said. “I lived in my car for a few months then my car got towed away and I lived in a tent.”
Vickary tried his luck at a few homeless shelters but was told he needed to give up his dog in order to stay. He said he’d rather be sleeping outside with his dog instead of sleeping in a shelter. Vickary has since found both a job and housing through the Transitions Project, and he encourages other homeless veterans to seek out assistance, even if they think they don’t need it.
“Now that I’ve gotten help I talk to a lot of guys and explain to them what they need to do. I tell them go down here, do this, do that, try to help them figure out what they can do. A lot of them don’t think they can even get [benefits] because they didn’t see combat or they have animals like me.”
Despite the challenges, both Erickson and Glover remain hopeful that all Portland area veterans will have found housing by this fall. They encourage anybody who rents or owns property to reach out and donate what they can offer, in order to help veterans get off the street.
“We try to tug on the heartstrings when we can,” Glover said. “The veterans that we’re serving are people who volunteered or were called to duty to fight and serve our country”
Veterans looking for resources can call the VA Community Resource and Referral Center at 503-808-1256.
Editor’s note: This article and its headline were modified to reflect the national deadline of housing homeless vets by December 31, 2015.