In King County, about 220 veterans have what Rebecca Murch, executive director of nonprofit organization The Seattle Stand Down calls “tickets to ending their homelessness” — vouchers for rental assistance. Finding a place to use them is the hard part.
“They’ve got a ticket to the carnival ride,” Murch said. “But there’s no carnival ride.”
On Aug. 10, the county launched Operation: WelcomeOneHome to raise awareness and recruit landlords and property owners to rent to homeless veterans.
The campaign kicked off with an event at Seattle Central College featuring politicians such as Sen. Patty Murray, State House Speaker Frank Chopp and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, and it is part of a concerted effort to eliminate veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
Aided by an influx of federal funding (“Homes for the Brave,” RC, April 29), King County has housed more than 1,200 veterans since the beginning of 2014.
It estimates it will need to house about 640 more to meet the goal by Dec. 31.
Mark Putnam, the director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, said a lack of affordable housing means they must rely on rental vouchers in the private market. That makes things difficult: In a competitive environment, landlords are hesitant to rent to tenants they see as high risk, and homeless veterans often face additional barriers such as bad credit or criminal history. Putnam said he’s seen veterans lose their subsidy because they couldn’t find a unit quickly enough.
The county offers a safety net to those who agree to rent to homeless veterans — case management and social services for tenants, a support line and a risk mitigation fund for landlords. If an owner has to evict a tenant or endures property damage, the county will pay.
Murch worked in property management for 13 years and said she is familiar with the stigma that low-income or homeless individuals will be bad tenants.
“It’s a business, and I totally understand that,” she said. “What I would really like to emphasize to landlords is that these are veterans who served our country. Maybe they came on hard times because of their services and maybe physical or invisible wounds they have suffered, but that is not always the case [that they will be bad tenants].”
More than the beginning of something new, Operation: WelcomeOneHome is a push to stay on track with the end-of-the-year deadline.
“We are a bit behind and we need to make up that ground,” Putnam said. “We’re not just kind of wishing and waiting for the data to come out. We’re working hard to make all the connections we need.”
Putnam said about 20 new landlords have reached out.