Grant will assist veterans

On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded a grant worth just shy of $750,000 to the Columbus House Inc., a shelter in New Haven that provides food and other services for the homeless.

Columbus House aims to use the $774,895 to acquire and to renovate a facility that will provide transitional housing for homeless veterans, according to a statement released by the department, called the VA, earlier this week. Part of the grant will also be used to provide services such as job training, referrals, and mental health and substance abuse treatments to help homeless veterans get back on their feet, organization representatives said.

Allen Taylor, a program specialist in the homeless veterans office in Washington D.C., said the grant application process is extremely competitive. While the office received several hundred applications, he said, only 52 organizations were chosen to receive pieces of the $11.6 million available funds.

Representatives from Columbus House were not available for comment.

Organizations like Columbus House that were applying for the grant money wrote proposals on how they planned to use the money in order to better serve the needs of homeless veterans, Taylor said. He said the amount of grant money awarded to each project varied from funds for a single van to money needed for bigger projects like Columbus House’s planned expansion.

“A panel of experts from the veterans affairs office involved in the homeless program and facilities review all the grants, which are then given a ranking or score,” Taylor said. “Then we go down the list and fund each grant until the money runs out.”

He said the grant will be given in progress payments, depending on how much the organization has done in terms of starting up the program. Representatives of the VA will inspect the building to ensure that the facilities meet certain requirements, and when the project reaches certain milestones, the VA will give progress payments to fund each step of the renovation process.

A spokesman for Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro — whose district includes Columbus House — could not be reached for comment. But DeLauro praised the grant in a statement released by her office yesterday.

“This funding speaks volumes to our commitment to America’s veterans and to Columbus House’s efforts to reduce homelessness in the New Haven area,” she said. “It is a national tragedy that so many Americans are homeless, and it is a national shame that so much of our homeless population comes from the ranks of America’s veterans. We have a moral obligation to provide for those who have served our country so honorably.”

The VA estimates that on any given night, approximately 200,000 veterans across the country are homeless, and nearly a third of all homeless people have served in the armed forces. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 45 percent of homeless veterans are mentally ill and half suffer from substance abuse problems.

John Wiltse, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, said organizations like Columbus House that seek to improve conditions for homeless veterans are often constrained by their limited resources. In order to improve the current situation, he said, shelters should increase accessibility, capacity and awareness because many veterans do not know about the various benefits that are available to them.

“This is certainly a sizeable grant that will help combat homelessness, but I don’t think you can ever say that it’s enough until every homeless veteran has someplace to go,” Wiltse said. “I don’t think we can ever thank or support our veterans enough, but in order to do so, we need to re-examine our resources and priorities as our veteran population grows everyday.”

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