City working to find housing for Austin's homeless veterans

About half of Austin's homeless veteran population now has a place to call home, according to the mayor.

That's thanks to the mayor's initiative to house all homeless veterans in the city by Veteran's Day.

With less than five weeks to go, the city has been running into some problems reaching that goal.

In January, a census found there were about 230 homeless veterans in Austin, but over the course of the year that number has doubled.

City leaders are working with the Ending Community Homeless Coalition, or ECHO, to find every single one of them a place to call home.

Finding a place for every homeless veteran in Austin to live has had its challenges.

"The biggest challenge is finding the beds, the apartments, the rental property," said Mayor Steve Adler. 

When Adler found out there were 230 homeless vets in the capitol city, he decided to make it a priority to help those who stood up for their country.

"These folks came from the military. They gave up a lot for the rest of us. We have a group of them that are now in need and this is a city that really ought to rally around them," said Adler.

Since March of this year, 99 veterans have been housed through a program ECHO, but 99 success stories is only the beginning.

"On one night we encountered 234 veterans. As the weeks and months have gone by, some of them have found housing and more have been identified," said Executive Director Ann Howard of the Ending Community Homeless Organization.

Because the number of homeless vets identified has doubled, ECHO leaders said the goal to get every veteran into temporary housing by November 11th has been pushed back a little bit.

"We will end veteran homelessness by December 31, 2015 and by Veteran's Day we should have a clear plan on how to end veteran homelessness for each veteran," Howard said.

Mayor Adler said they hope by using a three-tiered approach they will get the mission accomplished.

First, landlords need to make apartments or rental houses available.

"There's a fear of the unknown sometimes when you're renting to folks in this situation, but it's important to know that a lot of these folks are women with children some of them need jobs," said Adler. 

Next, contributions from the public will cover risk so landlords don't have to be concerned about unpaid rent. Lastly, 13 different organizations will help to cover any problems that could arise, including mental health and substance abuse issues.

Not all vets are convinced that the city will be able end homelessness.

"A lot of veterans are angry, a lot of veterans laugh when I make the comment about veterans that were counted that are homeless," said Gus Pena, a Marine who often works with veterans.

The lack of affordable places to live in Austin makes housing veterans in need expensive, but mayor Adler said saying thank you to those who gave their lives for our freedom is worth every cent. 

"We have a homeless challenge in this city. We have a city that has great wealth, an economy on fire, a lot of people that are doing really well and we are in a position to share that opportunity," said Adler. 

The average wait time from identification to housing homeless vets is 88 days. The goal is to get that down to 45 days. 

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