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VASH program helps veterans with housing needs

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Affordable housing in the region remains a challenge, with more than 200 people on the waiting list for vouchers and Roswell’s only public housing facility full, but some help is available for veterans.

Chris Herbert, executive director of the Eastern Regional Housing Authority, said that the Veterans Affairs Supported Housing (VASH) program has 15 vouchers for Chaves and Lea counties.

“It is specifically designed for folks who need supportive housing,” said Herbert, “vets who are experiencing homelessness or near-homelessness and who also are struggling with substance abuse, mental illness or a variety of handicaps or disabilities.”

Through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VASH participants can receive mental health services, life-skill services, financial counseling or other services determined by eligibility screening.

Through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its local agency, the Eastern Regional Housing Authority, which serves 12 counties and has its base in Roswell, veterans receive a Section 8 “housing choice” voucher that will pay Chaves County landlords from $519 to $612 for an individual, depending on circumstances and needs.

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“In many cases, when they are homeless, they have no income at all and can receive full benefits,” Herbert said. “And in many cases they could be receiving governmental benefits for their disabilities and veteran status, and they simply are not because they have not accessed those services yet. And that is where the VA case worker comes in to help them get their VA benefits and some financial tools to help them become stable.”

The Veterans Administration is in the process of hiring an Artesia-area coordinator, said Jason Ramos, the HUD-VASH supervisor with an office in Albuquerque. For now, those services are provided by himself or other staff.

He said that the program is working through the Eastern Regional Housing Authority with veterans in Roswell, Clovis, Hobbs and Alamogordo. He added that he has seen VASH help people become self-sufficient.

“The program is geared to the chronically homeless or those who are at risk of homelessness,” Ramos said. “If they have received a notice to vacate or an eviction notice, we can help them as well.”

Federal funding allocations are determined by Congress, so the money available for VASH in the region cannot be used for other purposes, Herbert said. This year, the Eastern Regional Housing Authority received 30 VASH vouchers, up from 16 last year. But finding eligible veterans has its own challenges.

“Basically people who are homeless can be difficult to reach,” he said. “In lots of cases, you have vets out there helping other vets and they just aren’t aware that this program is out there.”

If people do obtain a VASH voucher, there are rental spaces available in the area, including pre-approved apartment complexes and landlords renting single-family homes or rooms in them, Herbert said.

He added that prospective landlords can become HUD approved if they are willing to have properties inspected and complete other qualifying steps.

Veterans interested in participating in the program or obtaining more information can contact Cindy Ramos at the Eastern Regional Housing Authority, 575-622-0881.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.