VASH A LIFELINE FOR VETS LIKE WALTER
You would never guess that the neatly dressed Walter lived on the streets for five years. He agreed to share his story with us “if it could help someone else out.”
Walter worked as an aviation mechanic in the Marines toward the end of Vietnam, and later helped resettle Vietnamese refugees at Camp Pendleton in San Diego as a reservist. When his marriage fell apart more than a decade ago he became deeply depressed. “My world was shattered, and I didn’t have any reason to keep on going,” he recalls. He lost his housing and for five years he slept on the streets, never even venturing to East Lancaster for a hot meal and bed for the night.
From time to time Walter worked as a day laborer for minimum wage. But one day, while being transported to a job site, the truck he and others were riding in skidded off the highway at 121 and 35 and tumbled down an embankment, badly injuring Walter’s back. It was time to get some help.
Walter entered the VA’s Per Diem transitional housing program at the Presbyterian Night Shelter. “Thank God I picked myself up,” he says. The Per Diem program helps veterans with substance abuse and/or mental health issues, and also assists them with finding an income source and saving money. Walter applied for a VA disability pension and signed up for VASH, a HUD/VA housing assistance program for military veterans.
The VA screened and referred Walter to Fort Worth Housing Solutions. The housing authority worked with Walter and gave him a VASH voucher, and he quickly found an apartment home that accepted vouchers at Sycamore Center Villas in south Fort Worth. He moved in without a stick of furniture and slept on the floor with just a blanket. Over time he scraped together enough funds for a bed, sofa, kitchen table and chairs, then extras like a TV and chess set, which he takes to a local park to play with his buddies.
As with the Housing Choice Voucher program, VASH clients pay 30 percent of their income for rent and must re-certify annually. Walter pays $313 for rent and $50 for garage parking. He would love to work, but his back injury prevents him from doing manual labor and he does not want to give up his disability pension. Thanks to HUD, the VA, and Fort Worth Housing Solutions Walter has the lifeline he needs to survive but “it’s still tough,” he says.
Walter would need to net about $2,800 per month, or about $40,000 annually (gross), to afford full rent for his apartment ($949). For housing to be considered affordable, it should cost no more than a third of a household’s income.
Walter mentioned his children and their accomplishments. One daughter is a Fort Worth ISD educator who helps teachers improve their instruction skills. Another recently joined a Houston TV station after earning a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas. “I’m mainly proud that they won’t have to live from paycheck to paycheck,” he says.