More than 500 veterans housed in Delaware [video]

     From L: Vince Kane, Wilmington VA, Gregory Larry, USMC vet, Gov. John Carney, Anas Ben Addi, DSHA, Matthew Meyer, NCCo executive (Shirley Min/WHYY)

    From L: Vince Kane, Wilmington VA, Gregory Larry, USMC vet, Gov. John Carney, Anas Ben Addi, DSHA, Matthew Meyer, NCCo executive (Shirley Min/WHYY)

    Delaware leaders announced that 527 veterans now have homes to call their own, since the state joined a nationwide effort to end veteran homelessness.

    News of the milestone achievement was announced on Thursday at the Middleboro Crest Apartments in Wilmington. 

    “Today, I have a home over there,” U.S. Marine Corps veteran Gregory Larry told the crowd to applause. He was pointing to an apartment over his right shoulder. Larry had been homeless for 18 years. “It was weird at first. I mean, very weird because stuff that they got inside the home, you’re not used to because you lived out on the street.”

    Owner Bob Stella said currently 12 veterans live in his apartments and two more are waiting for approval.

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    Delaware State Housing Authority Director Anas Ben Addi thanked landlords like Stella and property managers for being great partners in this statewide challenge to find permanent housing for veterans. 

    “I know that these guys have accepted to take federal and state subsidies where they didn’t have to before because of the veterans. They waived application fees in some instances for some of our veterans. They have been flexible on the credit background and the criminal background in some instances,” Ben Addi said. “It’s one thing to have the subsidy and the client ready, but if you don’t have a unit that will take that client, that person will still be homeless.”

    Two years ago, then Governor Jack Markell pledged to end veteran homelessness in Delaware, answering a nationwide call to action first announced by First Lady Michelle Obama. The original Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness was to find permanent housing for all veterans by the end of 2015. 

    While some states across the country are still trying to achieve this goal, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notified Delaware leaders it had effectively ended veteran homelessness last October. “Effectively ended,” doesn’t mean the state will never have a homeless veteran again in the future, but that there’s a support network in place to ensure that homelessness among vets is prevented whenever possible, or is otherwise a rare, brief and non-recurring experience. 

    “The job isn’t done. It’s never done because it’s never a static situation for the individuals involved. And that’s why creating this partnership, which is what I think is what we’re really celebrating today,” said Carney, D-Delaware, of the state’s partnerships at the federal, state and county level as well as its relationship with local nonprofits all working towards the same goal. 

    “It really is about the partnership. It’s really about building a system because we know homelessness isn’t static. And it’s not non-discriminatory. Homelessness affects each of us differently and we have to be flexible in how we provide services,” said Vince Kane, director of Wilmington’s VA Medical Center. “You recognized that we need to sustain what we’ve started here and that we now need to take this to the next phase, which is, how do we not only make sure that anyone that’s at risk for homelessness is able to avoid it, but when someone becomes homeless that we not only get them the housing they need, but we also get them the services, the supports, the job opportunities, the health care to allow them to successfully reintegrate back into the communities that they served and fought to protect.”

    U.S. Navy veteran Charlie Farra said several factors led to his becoming homeless. He bounced around shelters for five years. Now he, like vet Gregory Larry, lives at Middleboro Crest. 

    “It’s great, it’s fantastic. I got a roof over my head and it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer and I got a refrigerator I can put my food in now,” said Farra, who hopes the system that helped him find his home can help other veterans like him in the future. 

    Ben Addi said during any given year, 280 veterans find themselves homeless in Delaware; on any given night, he said, 80 veterans experience homelessness. Ben Addi cited the Homeless Planning Council of Delaware’s Point in Time reports that provide snapshots of the state’s homeless population each year. 

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