Erin McGuinness

The Razorback Reporter

President Donald Trump proposed to increase funding for Veterans Affairs by more than $7 billion nationally, an addition that might not have an effect on the homeless veteran population in Fayetteville, according to interviews with those who work with providing housing for veterans.

Trump’s agenda “The America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” proposes to increase VA support by 6 percent, or $4.4 billion with an additional $3.5 billion to continue the Veterans Choice Program.

Approximately 60 homeless veterans in Fayetteville do not receive housing services, said Kevin Fitzpatrick, UA sociology professor and Community and Family Institute director.

Two major programs benefit homeless veterans in Fayetteville. Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) provides rapid re-housing for veterans and their families through 7hills Homeless Center. Housing and Urban Development Housing Choice Voucher (HUD/VASH) works through the Fayetteville Housing Authority to provide permanent independent community housing for homeless veterans eligible for VA Health Care.

7hills Homeless Center placed 130 veterans in rapid re-housing during the previous grant cycle, Jessica Andrews, chief executive officer, said.

“Just from the point in time numbers between 2015 and 2017 within northwest Arkansas the percentage of total adults experiencing homelessness that were veterans went up by two percent,” she said. “I mean it’s a very small increase, but that’s still showing us that there is some additional need here.”

If given more money, 7hills would be able to further their outreach and house more veterans through SSVF, she said.

“The SSVF program has been pretty successful nationwide, so we can’t know what the VA will choose to allocate funds to. But it is a very successful proven program,” she said.

The Fayetteville Housing Authority is allocated 125 vouchers to house homeless veterans, Joy Hunnicutt, Section 8 housing specialist, said. The authority was offered more vouchers, she said, but the office will not accept additional vouchers or money.

“The 125 vouchers we have, we always have openings, we never have them completely full, we never have had, so were not going to take any new vouchers at this point in time,” she said.

There are 112 homeless veterans on the books, Hunnicutt said in a previous interview.

The veterans have to be eligible for case management before they enter the VASH program.  Veterans who do not qualify for the program might be a reason not all the vouchers are used, Hunnicutt said.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m ever pointing fingers at the VA because we work very closely with them, but they have to bring us people before we can house them,” she said.

Brian McAnally, Health Care for Homeless Veterans manager differs slightly from the number provided by Hunnicutt. Of the 125 vouchers in Fayetteville, 120 are full, McAnally said. There is a list of 15 people waiting to procure the additional five.

“They (Fayetteville Housing Authority) have told us they don’t want any more vouchers, that is not a decision that the U.S. government makes, so if they don’t want to accept them, they don’t have to accept them,” he said.

President Trump’s budget is just a suggestion, said Heather Neilson, press secretary for Rep. Steve Womack, R. Ark.

While support will increase overall, that does not mean that every VA program with receive more money.

“Our appropriations bill had an increase compared to the number from last year, but just because there is an increase, does not mean that there is an increase for every program under the VA umbrella. That would not be physically sound,” she said.

The fiscal year starts Oct. 1. and it is not official where the money will be allocated to yet, McAnally said. McAnally runs programs throughout northwest Arkansas and Missouri in addition to his work with Fayetteville.

“Nothing is official yet. But it appears that, yes, we will be receiving some additional resources for homeless veterans,” he said.