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Houston Still Has Challenges To End Veterans’ Homelessness

The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center recently held an event to provide services to that segment of the population.


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The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center held its annual Stand Down event on October 7th, which provides information about a host of services for veterans, including housing programs for those who are homeless.
Al Ortiz
The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center recently held its annual Stand Down event, which provides information about services for veterans, including housing programs for those who are homeless.

Houston's veterans face different challenges when they transition from military to civilian life and that can make their access to housing difficult despite the city's progress on homelessness.

Former Mayor Annise Parker said in June of last year that Houston had effectively ended veterans' homelessness, but that is not necessarily the case.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County, more than 1,200 homeless veterans have been placed into some type of housing since the day Parker made that statement. But Carl Salazar, director of Houston’s Veterans Affairs Office, says there are always people coming in or falling between the cracks.

Salazar says Harris County has the second largest veteran population in the United States, just behind Los Angeles County, with approximately 250,000 veterans.

Some of them are in Houston because it is their hometown, but others come because they hear it is an affordable city that also offers many job opportunities.

That means Houston regularly receives an influx of veterans and some of them don't have a place to stay.

In some cases the mere process of applying for housing becomes a challenge.

That is happening to Calvin Mansell, a 60 year old homeless veteran who is living on the streets, north of downtown Houston.

He says he applied for housing about a month ago and hasn't heard back yet.

Mansell also notes the difficulty of the application process. "Sometimes we as homeless people don’t have the access to communications as far as cell phones, computers, applying online, all these type of situations where some of us don’t really know about these types of things," he said.

Mansell says he has two grown daughters, but he doesn't want to become a burden for them and so he prefers to stay homeless until he finally gets the housing he has applied for.

Kim Lanier, who works with the group Life Touch Community Ministries, which helps provide housing services for the homeless population, explains that the eligibility criteria for housing are strict.

"You have the population who may have gotten a voucher to (an) apartment or housing," says Lanier "but their substance abuse was not addressed, so if you don’t get them through the program to address their issues and then reward them with a voucher, then they’re going to lose it because you haven’t changed behavior."

Salazar says although the system isn't perfect, there are more beds for veterans than there were before.