‘All the stars aligned:’ How the Dayton VA helped one veteran find her home

One veterans story exemplifies how housing vouchers improve lives, advocates say

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

The number of homeless veterans has fallen nationally by 11% in the past two years — and in the Dayton area, the work of the Dayton VA and its allies are one reason why.

Dayton Veterans Affairs (VA) staff and housing advocates in Dayton and Indiana were able to help U.S. Navy veteran Erin Bowman and her two young children find a home in the Richmond, Ind. area, ending a trying period when Bowman was forced to alternate between living in her van and sleeping on a friend’s couch.

“It was stressful,” Bowman said in an interview at the Dayton VA Medical Center.

Bowman exemplifies an increasingly common success story, advocates say. Across a 16-county service area, the Dayton VA has helped distribute 238 federal housing vouchers over the years, including 198 in Montgomery County alone. If a veteran’s income improves, vouchers can be recycled to someone else in need.

“The VA is here for the veterans,” said Diane Smith-Foster, homeless program manager for the Dayton VA.

The VA Department permanently housed 40,401 homeless veterans last year, exceeding the department’s goal to house 38,000 veterans by 6.3%.

Nationally, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has fallen by 11% since January 2020.

Experiencing a serious ankle injury during a two-and-a-half year stint as a Navy aviation electrician in training, Bowman left the service. She separated from the father of her children and — facing a set of narrowing options — moved into a friend’s small Indiana apartment.

The friend’s apartment lease disallowed overnight visitors for more than two weeks, forcing Bowman and her kids to life in her van. This was last autumn, when nights were growing colder.

“At night, I would have to turn the van on to kick up the heat,” Bowman recalled. “The girls would sleep in the back, and I would stay awake.”

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

In desperation, she turned to Dayton VA-HUD (Housing and Urban Development) case manager Don Dohrman on the recommendation of her brother, also a veteran.

“Working with her, I could tell the effects the stress was having on her physical and mental health,” Dohrman said.

Just before Thanksgiving, Bowman found the right house, even before she had the requisite HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) voucher that would help cover costs. A last-minute phone call from a Richmond housing advocate helped convince a landlord to agree to the lease.

Not all landlords accept voucher applicants and those who do often have lengthy waiting lists.

St. Vincent De Paul in Dayton also covered hotel costs for Bowman and helped buy beds for her kids, according to Bowman and those who worked with her.

The HUD-VASH voucher covers most of the cost of the home’s monthly lease payment, leaving Bowman responsible for the balance, up to 30% of her income.

“I’m an investment,” Bowman told her prospective landlord, trying to convince her to accept a voucher applicant. “You won’t have to chase me down for the rent.”

“All the stars aligned,” Dohrman said.

The VA is making further investments to tackle the problem. It recently announced an infusion of $30 million available to organizations that help formerly homeless veterans.

The VA expects to award 100 “case management grants” for up to $300,000 each to support about 150 case manager positions across the nation.

Awards will fund two years of work, starting Oct. 1 this year and ending Sept. 30, 2025. The funds are available through VA’s Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program.

Eligible groups, as described in a federal “Notice of Funding Opportunity,” may apply for these grants, the department said.

Grant applications must be received by the GPD Program Office by 4 p.m. ET May 4, 2023. Learn more about the GPD or email GPDGrants@va.gov.

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