Affordable housing becomes another obstacle for already burdened veterans in North Texas

In December, Jefferi Weller became homeless for the first time in her life.

The rent exceeded his Social Security income and that of his elderly mother, he said, and he didn’t have the money for a deposit on new housing.

“I found so many obstacles just trying to navigate what I considered normal, Weller said.

That’s what brought Weller to the Dallas office of the American GI Forum in July. The agency organized a job and housing fair. About half a dozen veterans sat in the waiting room, filling out forms and waiting their turn to meet with case managers and potential employers.

Most of them, including Weller, said they were living in shelters. Finding a place to live — somewhere he could stay for the long term — was high on Weller’s list of priorities.

“The average apartment is now $1,200 a month for a single room, and for my Social Security benefit, it’s more than half of my check,” Weller said. “I have to eat and take care of the bills I currently have, and I’m just not able to do both at the same time.”

Housing prices are getting more expensive in North Texas and across the state, squeezing renters and buyers look alike. This places a particular burden on veterans, who often emerge from the military with little preparation or support for the challenges of civilian life, advocates say. Finding housing, in addition to issues like physical injury and mental illness, can seem overwhelming for a group of people accustomed to clarity and structure in their daily lives.

‘Hey, my landlord raised my rent’

President Joe Biden visited Fort Worth in March to promote one of his administration’s top priorities: improving veterans’ health care.

“We only have one really sacred obligation, and I mean this sacred obligation,” Biden told the crowd. “And that is to train and equip those we send into danger and take care of them and their families when they return home.”

Local advocates said they were happy to see the president paying attention to the issue, but the biggest issue facing North Texas veterans is housing.

That is why the American forum on GIs take a “housing first” approach, said Demetria Fields, housing coordinator at the agency. Get veterans housed, then address other issues, like PTSD or physical disability.

“Thinking about those things in addition to where I’m going to lay my head? It can be absolutely overwhelming,” Fields said.

Finding accommodation is more difficult now, in terms of cost.

Dallas rents in July were 16% higher than they were at the same time last year, rental company says List of apartments.

“City rents have increased for 20 consecutive months – the last time rents fell was November 2020,” the report said.

The median rent in Dallas is $1,243 for a bedroom and $1,485 for a bedroom, according to Apartment List.

Fort Worth wasn’t much cheaper. The median rent is $1,170 for a T1 and $1,350 for a T2. Year-on-year, rents in the city are 13.6% higher than the same time in 2021.

These increases are costly for veterans who could have had stable housing last year, said Kamiel Morgan, network manager for the Texas Veterans Network with United Way of Tarrant County.

“We get veterans who call and say, ‘Hey, my landlord raised my rent and I wasn’t ready,’ and there’s a $400 or $500 difference,” Morgan said.

The Texas Veterans Network is a clearinghouse for veterans services across Texas. If a veteran calls for help, Morgan’s team can direct them to more than 200 veteran-serving organizations statewide.

Morgan works closely with Megan Heil, the North Texas regional director for Combined Arms, the nonprofit that operates the Texas Veterans Network. There are serious gaps in available housing assistance, Heil said.

There are federal housing programs for veterans, but they have eligibility criteria — like being at a certain poverty line — that not all veterans meet. This leaves some veterans trying, and failing, to find housing they can afford on the open market.

“Poverty guidelines did not change overnight [when] the rent has gone up,” Heil said.

For those who benefit from housing vouchers, some landlords will not accept them, says Heil. A 2018 Urban Institute Study found that 78% of Fort Worth homeowners refused to accept vouchers, and their right to refuse is protected by Texas State law.

Landlords may also be hesitant to rent to a veteran with an eviction or balance owing on their record.

“Who will accept them? Heil said. “Sometimes a landlord will say, okay, I’ll take them, but there’s a high-risk fee, on top of a deposit, on top of the first and last month’s rent. Well, they don’t haven’t saved $5,000. until putting on a one bedroom apartment.”

HUD’s 2020 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report

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A graph that shows an overall decline in the homeless veteran population from 2009 to 2020, including the estimated number of veterans living in shelters or on the streets since 2009.

Why are veterans at greater risk of homelessness?

Maintaining stable housing is a persistent problem for veterans, and the reasons why have been studied for decades.

In a single night in January 2020, 37,252 veterans were left homeless in the United States, representing approximately 8% of the total homeless population, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report.

However, this population is much smaller than it was 11 years ago. Homelessness among veterans fell nearly 50% from 2009 to 2020, the report says.

This decline is due to an Obama-era initiative to end veteran homelessness, said Dr. Katherine Koh, who researches homelessness while working as a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.

Despite the improvements, she still sees room for improvement.

“The veteran homeless population is still high, and veterans are still overrepresented in the homeless population,” Koh said.

Koh is a street psychiatrist, which means she goes “under the bridge and [in] alleys” in Boston, finding people who need help and providing mental health services. Among her patients are veterans who she says did not receive the support they needed after returning to civilian life.

“I think it’s a tragedy that soldiers leave their country to honorably serve our country and often come back without a home to return to,” she said.

Veterans are particularly susceptible to becoming homeless, Koh said.

Fighting and trauma while on duty increase the risk of developing mental illness, which contributes to the risk of homelessness, Koh said. The same goes for insufficient access to housing and support services after leaving the military. Even life before the military can help, she says.

“People who have joined the military are more likely to already have risk factors that predispose them to homelessness, [like] higher rates of mental illness and addiction and low income factors,” Koh said.

Koh is interested in finding ways to prevent people from becoming homeless, so she worked on a study which attempted to determine what homeless veterans have in common.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on April 14, looked at data collected from more than 15,000 US Army soldiers and built a model to predict who might end up homeless later in life. life.

Of nearly 2,000 variables, the study found that the three biggest predictors of future homelessness were major depressive disorder, PTSD and the trauma of having a loved one murdered.

“Our study confirmed the link between mental illness, trauma, and homelessness with a large and robust data set, and also demonstrated that homelessness can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy,” Koh said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense are funding Koh’s research, she said, and she hopes the military can use her model to identify service members who may be particularly vulnerable to losing their lives. home. This way, the military can connect them with case managers before they leave for civilian life.

“Generally, transitions are psychologically difficult for people. It tends to happen when people have mood swings and anxiety shifts,” Koh said. transition can create a period of instability for people.

Fix Transition

Improving transition out of the military could help prevent veterans from becoming homeless in the future, advocates and researchers I agree.

At present, the army offers the Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, to the approximately 200,000 soldiers who leave the army each year. The program includes workshops on employment and career development in civilian life.

But Megan Heil, North Texas regional manager at Combined Arms, said the quality of education and information people are getting is inconsistent.

“Active duty members go through months of training to learn how to be the best active duty member and know their role and know their job,” she said. “However, when it’s time to go out, it’s ‘Thank you for your service.'”

Kamiel Morgan agreed on the need for more preparation. She and her husband joined the army young, around the age of 20, she said. It was her whole life until a few years ago, and she had to take care of childcare, schools, and a whole host of things she never had to worry about when they were in the army.

“It’s a different world,” she says.

Back at the American GI Forum, Fatima, who asked to be addressed only by her first name, was not there for the job and housing fair. She had already been working with the American GI Forum for about two months and was about to be placed in an apartment in Mesquite, where she looked forward to spending time with her grandchildren.

When she left the army in 2000, she wished she had more help with her transition to civilian life, she said, but it was not her problem to find good accommodation now.

“That’s the price. This is the main problem I had,” said Fatima. “Actually, that’s the only problem I had was the price.”

Do you have any advice? Email Miranda Suarez at [email protected]. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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