Oregon Coast Community Action (ORCA) has been notified that it will get $10,743 in state lottery money to help Curry and Coos county’s homeless veterans.

The money represents 3.7 percent of the $350,000 recently released by the state Housing and Community Services (OHCS) department.

The funds are a result of voter-approved Measure 96 that allocates a 1.5 percent of net lottery revenue to veterans’ issues. Last session, the legislature authorized spending $1.5 million $18.7 million anticipated to be garnered in lottery revenue in the next two years.

The $350,000 released this week is part of that $1.5 million — “a kind of advance,” said Ariel Nelson, OHCS’s government relations and communications liaison. The legislature will decide how the remainder will be allocated when it meets again in February.

“Every veteran in Oregon deserves safe and stable housing,” Gov. Kate Brown said. “I’m proud of the progress we’re making to ensure every veteran has a roof over his or her head, and this dedicated funding takes us another step closer toward ending veterans homelessness in Oregon.”

Where to spend it?

Mike Lehman, CEO of ORCA, said both counties will first enhance services already in place and then discuss what they can and can’t do with the additional money.

“One requirement of the law is that we partner and collaborate with other entities, the VSO (veteran service officers) in both counties,” he said. “It’s be a lot of partnering and conversation — the biggest bang for the buck.”

The idea of purchasing a building to house veterans is an idea that has been discussed at length, Lehman added.

“I’ve been told this, and I’ve learned it first-hand,” he said. “Sometimes the easiest thing to do is purchase a building. The difficult thing is to maintain it and keep it operating and provide services there. We’ve looked carefully at (this).”

A developers in North Bend has expressed interest in doing so, he added.

“I’ve always said if we could get 20 units in Curry County, it’d be a significant impact,” he said. “But it would probably need to be spread between three locations. Building structures is very difficult. It’s an expensive, long, drawn-out process.”

In the meantime, ORCA and county VSOs plan to use local resources to address the problem for all homeless people.

“More than anything, these dollars will be very helpful in filling in services — medical care, transportation, providing rental assistance and deposits to get people into housing,” Lehman said.

Underreported vets

Curry County has the most veterans, per capita, of any other county in Oregon, and funds are allocated based on a formula that partially takes into account the annual Point-in-Time homeless count each January, during which the state tries to figure out the population of homeless.

This year’s one-day count was held during inclement weather throughout the state, which bodes well for those counting homeless people in cities that offer shelter. In bad weather, the citys’ homeless gravitate toward shelters and are more easily counted.

But here, they hunker down and are less likely to be counted, thus skewing the numbers, Nelson admitted. Only 10 veterans were counted as being as homeless in January 2017.

“We know it’s an undercount,” she said. “It’s not going to show every veteran. It’s not the only tool, not the best tool, but it is a tool and gives us an opportunity to look. It depends on the county; different data collections can get different results.”

The formula, the same one used from document reports for emergency housing assistance, wasn’t changed to reflect the percentage of veterans in the homeless populations because some counties didn’t identify the veterans, Nelson said.

“When I listen to other agencies, their message is all the same: ‘It’s not enough; what are we going to do?’” Lehman said. “It’s better than nothing, but it’s not a solution.”

The formula takes into account the number of veterans with an annual income below the federal poverty threshold and gives that a 55 percent weight in the equation. An additional 35 percent weight is given to the number of households that spend more than 50 percent for housing. The remaining 10 percent is based on the number of people counted as homeless during the Point-in-Time in the past two counts.

According to the Point-in-Time count last conducted in 2015, the number of homeless veterans statewide declined 121 people, or 9 percent.

“In the last few years, we have made great progress in reducing the number of homeless veterans, but we still have a long way to go to meet our goal of ending veteran homelessness in our state,” said Cameron Smith, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. “This funding is essential as we continue to work to address the housing needs of all of Oregon’s veterans and their families.”

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