Just over 10 percent of the homeless population are veterans.
And 20 percent of homeless males once served in the military.
But the Multi-Service Center will soon make a difference in the lives of 44 homeless veterans once the William J. Wood Veterans House opens this December in Federal Way.
“Where it’s really important is not only are we giving 44 units of housing to the homeless population, we’re also honoring veterans at the same time,” said Greg Hollmann, the Veteran Project Coordinator with the Multi-Service Center.
CEO Robin Corak said the Multi-Service Center is excited to see the project come to fruition.
“We want to give everybody living in the house every opportunity and resource needed to be successful,” she said.
Veterans will be honored by little reminders of patriotism throughout the housing project they will call home. A 35-foot flag pole will greet them before they enter their building that will proudly display artwork fit for a soldier.
Hollmann said they are about 98 percent done filling the one-to-three bedroom, fully furnished units. Identified by Veterans Affairs, those who live in the veterans house will receive Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers (also known as VASH vouchers), which are similar to Section 8 vouchers. The vouchers allow tenants to pay 30 percent of their income, whatever that may be, toward rent.
So far, the tenants range from young single fathers in the National Guard to grizzled Korean war veterans where the veterans house will likely “be the last place they’ll ever live.”
“We have people getting their lives together,” Hollmann said. “Veterans who walked out of the woods the day they needed to do their paperwork.”
Of the 44 units, 11 units will serve families.
Hollmann said while there was a 2010 initiative to put an end to homeless veterans, which has reduced homeless veterans by 37 percent, there’s currently a “massive draw-down” as wars come to an end.
Approximately 50,000 soldiers, 17,000 airmen and 15,000 marines have been “forcibly pushed” out of the military and there are many who don’t want to leave, said Hollmann, an Army veteran who was active for four years and spent two years in the Army Reserve.
And those who are pushed out may have mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or substance abuse.
“A lot of soldiers don’t want to ask for help for PTSD because they’re afraid to lose their security clearances and lose their job,” Hollmann said.
Other times, soldiers aren’t prepared for civilian life, such as paying rent and shopping for groceries, and some military occupations don’t transfer to the civilian workforce.
“They don’t have the basic skills of a college student,” Hollmann said, adding that those lack of skills can feed into homelessness, especially when faced with King County’s expensive housing market.
The William J. Wood Veterans House will be more than just infrastructure.
Hollmann said there will be wrap-around services with an on-site Veterans Affairs representative, three full-time case managers, job training rooms, computer labs, youth rooms and more. Hollmann said he’s reached out to the veterans clinic and is contemplating bringing in flu shots, nutrition classes, and hopes the site can be host to groups or classes for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or marriage counseling.
“Let’s make this seamless, so that all services are there,” Hollmann said, noting that they designed the building for extra office space. “Mental health and chemical dependency – let’s bring services to them.”
The Multi-Service Center already has many services such as food banks, employment and education training, which will be of use to homeless veterans, but Hollmann said bridging those services with other veterans groups will be key.
“I really want people to realize this isn’t a separate community in Federal Way, this is our community,” Hollmann said. “We really want to integrate these people into the community.”
Multi-Service Center’s previous CEO, Councilwoman Dini Duclos, saw an increased need for serving veterans in South King County and she and Corak began work on the project, as both have family members and friends who have served in the military.
But getting the project to break ground was challenging.
The project was initially supposed to be funded through federal funding with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the government’s sequestration changed regulations and the project died. Corak said King County was persistent and they found a way to make the project work, however, there was a second obstacle. Just as Multi-Service Center was getting ready to break ground two years ago in November 2014, Sound Transit announced the possibility of light rail on Pacific Highway South, which may have subjected the project to eminent domain. However, the Sound Transit Board has since recommended a light rail route that wouldn’t impact the project.
The William J. Wood Veterans House is possible due to the funding of the Washington State Department of Commerce Housing Trust Fund, King County Veterans and Human Services Levy administered by the King County Housing and Community Development, King County Housing Authority, Federal Home Loan Bank (Umpqua Bank as the sponsor), the National Equity Fund, LISC-NEF Bring Them Homes Initiative with MetLife Foundation, The Home Depot Foundation, Impact Capital, Washington Federal Bank, tax credits through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, and the generous resources of Multi-Service Center and Shelter Resources, Inc.
As Multi-Service Center readies the Federal Way veterans housing project for completion, the organization is asking for donations that make a unit feel like home. Although the units are fully furnished, occupants will still be in need of home necessities such as towels, sheets, and other like-items. It costs about $300 to outfit one bedroom, Hollmann said.
To donate, contact the volunteer coordinator Joan Pratt at 253-838-6810 ext. 2005.
The William J. Wood Veterans House will host an open house from 3-6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8. The housing project is located at 29404 Pacific Highway S. in Federal Way.
For more information on the William J. Wood Veterans House, visit mschelps.org/gethelp/housing/veterans.