Opportunity Council awarded $684,000 to help veterans get out of homelessness

Jul 28, 2011

 Bellingham Herald

July 28, 2011

Veterans who are homeless or in danger of ending up on the streets will get help with housing, thanks to a $684,000 federal grant awarded to the Opportunity Council as part of a new federal initiative.

The money will be used for 275 veteran households in five counties: Whatcom, Skagit, Island, Jefferson and Clallam.

Veterans will receive financial help, case management and services that are linked to long-term housing stability. They'll also receive assistance with financial literacy, credit counseling, child care and parenting help.

Efforts to end homelessness among veterans are already under way locally through public-private collaborations. The federal grant will enable providers to do more, and to help more veterans.

"This gets us much closer to our goal of ending veterans' homelessness in Whatcom County because it expands the capacity of our providers so much," said Greg Winter, director of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center at the Opportunity Council.

The federal money will allow the council to serve two to three times more veterans than what would have been possible with only local funding, said Winter, who also is chairman of the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness.

The Opportunity Council was one of just two agencies in Washington to receive grants, totaling nearly $1.2 million, through the new Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday, July 27.

The other recipient was Community Psychiatric Clinic of Seattle, which received a little over $507,000.

Nearly $60 million was awarded nationwide to 85 nonprofit community agencies.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, wrote a letter on behalf of the Opportunity Council to help secure the grant.

"Too many local veterans are struggling with homelessness," Larsen said in a statement. "One of my most important responsibilities as a member of Congress is ensuring the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for our country get the support they have earned and deserve."

There are 87 homeless households in Whatcom County that included at least one veteran, according to an annual count of the homeless that occurred in January.

"We're also beginning to see more female veterans," Winter said, adding that while the numbers of female veterans who are homeless "aren't huge," it is an emerging population.

The nonprofit Opportunity Council provides a host of services that include child care, early childhood education, energy assistance and transitional housing in Whatcom, San Juan and Skagit counties.

In Whatcom and Island counties, the council will provide the services for veterans targeted by the federal grant. It will partner with other agencies in the remaining three counties.