VA expands rental support, increases housing options for homeless veterans

The Shallow Subsidy initiative expanded in August aims to help homeless veterans find more permanent housing options sooner and receive the support they need.


Dimia Burrell

The outside of the Veteran Affairs Medical Center on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.

Lillian Poulsen, News Reporter

Veterans in Iowa City and surrounding areas continue to suffer from homelessness as they navigate returning to the U.S. after serving overseas.

As of Aug. 27, there are 80 veterans who are homeless in the Iowa City Veterans Affairs service area, which includes 52 counties in eastern Iowa, western Illinois, and one county in Missouri, Janelle Beswick, VA acting public affairs officer said.

In Iowa City, there are 10 homeless veterans, she said.

A new program introduced Aug. 25 aims to increase housing options for veterans and expand their rental support. The Veterans Affairs health care system serves this population to decrease the number of homeless veterans and help them find permanent solutions to their housing crises.

The Shallow Subsidy initiative will grant $200 million to 238 nonprofit organizations across the country to provide housing rental assistance to extremely low-income veteran households who are eligible under the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs release.

This decision came in response to the COVID-19 health emergency that has significantly increased the population of veterans who are at risk of homelessness, the release stated.

For Iowa City veterans, there are four shelters that reserve beds for veterans: six beds at Christian Care in Rock Island, 13 beds at Humility Homes and Services in Davenport, 10 beds at Willis Dady Homeless Services in Cedar Rapids, and 10 beds at Shelter House in Iowa City, Karen Abendroth, specialty programs supervisor for the Iowa City VA Health Care System, said.

“It’s not just the Iowa City VA, but it’s the public housing authorities and shelters getting together to create this coordinated entry so that people are identified quickly and receive resources quickly,” Abendroth said. “The state of Iowa is working on a strategic plan to help this population.”

According to the release, the program is funded by The American Rescue Plan and is available in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. It promotes long-term housing stability by providing rental assistance payments directly to landlords for eligible veteran households for up to two years, the release said.

The purpose of this program is to encourage veterans to increase their income through employment opportunities by covering 35 percent of veterans’ rent, the release said.

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Current efforts to help veterans who are homeless include a number of different programs, Beswick said. The VA partners with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, working in regions called Continuums of Care to coordinate homeless services, she said.

“Each county in our catchment area is covered by an outreach social worker to identify veterans who are homeless or at risk of being homeless,” Beswick said. “Iowa City has grants with four homeless shelters to provide temporary shelter while looking through permanent housing.”

One of the options to help veterans is to get them immediate shelter, Abendroth said.

Through permanent housing options, veterans may receive financial assistance and case management services through the Supportive Services for Veteran Family grant, Transition in Place grant, or the Housing and Urban Development program, Beswick said.

“The Supportive Services for Veteran Family grant can help people for up to a year with case management, and it pays for a deposit for three to six months of rent so veterans can get on their feet and hopefully be employed,” Abendroth said. “We want them to have a stable income before they stop receiving this assistance.”

Iowa City Public Housing Authority has a partnership with the VA for this program with 83 section 8 vouchers, meaning the housing authority manages the vouchers while the VA team works with the veterans to keep them housed, Beswick said.

This year, the VA homeless program expanded to include veterans who aren’t eligible for VA health care for a number of reasons, including dishonorable discharge, Abendroth said.

“Over the past few years there’s been a big movement to end homelessness,” Abendroth said. “We look very closely at the number of people who come into the system that are homeless and make sure that number is decreasing and going in the right direction.”

Since Iowa City and Coralville housing options tend to be more expensive, the VA works to help veterans find apartments within their income guidelines in cheaper places like Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, Abdendroth said.

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Beswick said public housing authorities continue to request an increase in vouchers. The Grant and Per Diem Transition in Place program is new as of last year and continues to expand to more rural areas of the Iowa City catchment area, she said.

With these new opportunities, the VA is hoping to continue to improve their numbers and help veterans get into permanent housing options, Beswick said.

“Although we have made great progress in reducing our number of homeless Veterans in the Iowa City VA’s service area, our work is not done as we continue to improve and add services,” Beswick said.

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