Program helps homeless veterans: SD Housing Commission awarded 185 additional housing vouchers

Homeless population estimated at 1,500

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Housing Commission was awarded 185 additional federal housing vouchers to help homeless local veterans find a place to live, city officials announced Thursday.

The vouchers were allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development through its six-year-old Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program. Homeless veterans must participate in the Department of Veterans Affairs program to be eligible for a voucher, according to the housing commission.

"This gives the San Diego Housing Commission the chance to get 185 people into homes of their own," Mayor Bob Filner said. "You can't imagine the change in lives that represents. The term `homeless veteran' should not be in our vocabulary."

Veterans Affairs case workers also help ensure participants receive clinical health and case management services, and after determining their eligibility, participants are referred to the housing commission for housing assistance.

The housing commission, as an administrator of the vouchers, verifies that veterans receiving rental assistance comply with the requirements of the supportive housing program.

"The VASH voucher program is a valuable tool to help address the problem of homelessness among military veterans," housing commission President and CEO Richard C. Gentry said. "These 185 additional vouchers raise the total number to 620, which have been awarded to the San Diego Housing Commission since 2008."

Voucher recipients, along with federal Housing Choice Voucher participants and local public housing residents are also eligible for the housing commission's Achievement Academy, which provides financial education, job skill courses and career planning, a commission official said.

Rodrigo Sewell who served in the Army from 1976 to 1977, is a housing voucher recipient.

"I lost confidence once I injured my knee, being infantry men and all," Sewell told 10News.

When he got out of the service, he fell into a life of partying.

"I was going through a drug addiction, alcohol," he said.

Sewell was homeless and living on the streets in a cardboard box for almost 10 years. Then one day he got that call that changed his life forever.

"You qualified and we have a voucher for you," said Sewell.

Each voucher is worth about $10,000.00 per year and is used for housing costs. The additional vouchers that were awarded to San Diego are  expected to go fast.

"We have more veterans who have an interest in the program and who definitely benefit from the program than we do vouchers," said Jessica Chamberlain with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sewell said the program helped him take classes.

"They taught me the computer classes, interview skills, how not to use slang when you speak, how to sit," said Sewell, who now he has a full-time job, his own apartment, a car and long-term goals.

 “I'm thinking of buying a house," said Sewell. "I have to find out how long I have to be at work before I can apply for a VA loan to get a house."

There are an estimated 1,500 homeless veterans in San Diego.

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