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New VA grant to Austin nonprofit will help keep formerly homeless vets in homes

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The grant represents a shift in how the department is addressing veteran homelessness.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin nonprofit will use a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide resources and services to keep formerly homeless veterans in their homes.

Family Eldercare is the only group in central Texas to receive a portion of the $30 million the VA set aside for the new type of grant. Previous funding went toward getting homeless veterans into housing to begin with.

“Now we need to put funds and additional supports into these folks that are now housed and ensuring that they remain housed,” said Claire Rheaume, Family Eldercare’s money management program manager.

Austin announced in 2016 it had effectively ended veteran homelessness. Three other cities in Texas — Houston, San Antonio and Abilene — have done the same, bringing the total in the U.S. to 78 cities and three states.

The new funding, provided under the VA’s Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program, takes the next step, providing vets with financial management, access to education and better employment to ensure they don’t end up back on the street.

Family Eldercare will receive $162,171 to provide those case management services. The nonprofit hopes to help at least 50 vets a year stay in their homes. In all, 128 organizations across the country are receiving grant funding.

‘This program saved me’

Russell Moreau joined the Marine Corps at the age of 19. He served six years, from 1979 to 1985, as a sniper in a military police tactical platoon.

“We responded to everything that was too dangerous for a regular MP,” he said.

“Drill instructor said, ‘If you smile, we’ll break your arm,'” Russell Moreau explained as he showed his boot camp photo. “So I didn’t smile.” (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The adjustment to civilian life, as it is for so many veterans, was a difficult transition for Moreau. Even now, more than three decades later, “it’s another challenge to face, another mountain to climb, just to get through a day,” he said. “But I’ve been doing it.”

Moreau has lived in his apartment off South Lamar Boulevard for the past three years after being days away from homelessness. He faced eviction at his previous apartment when Family Eldercare stepped in to help him find and finance his current living situation.

“This program saved me,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been close to homelessness, but so far it’s been his last. The services he’s received from the nonprofit have helped him feel secure in his studio apartment, to the point that he’s ready to upgrade to a one-bedroom when his lease expires at the end of October.

“They helped me get started on the road back up,” he said.

An ongoing need

The grant funds awarded this week are the first from the VA for case management services under the GPD program. The department established the funding category in 2016, and this year administrators sought out for the first time grantees to apply.

“VA and its partners remain committed to providing Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with the assistance they have earned and deserve,” a department spokesperson wrote in a statement to KXAN.

Two other groups in Texas received funds: The United States Veterans Initiative in Houston got $225,000 and the Opportunity Center for the Homeless in El Paso received a check for $119,042.

Like all grants, however, this funding is temporary. In order to continue offering these services to keep veterans in their homes, groups like Family Eldercare will need to find other avenues

There will always be work to do on this front, Rheaume said, to ensure that “we’re able to meet this big gap in the community.”

The nonprofit plans to start accepting referrals for the program from other veterans groups in the coming weeks. Moreau is thankful such a program exists to help his fellow veterans the way Family Eldercare helped him.

“It’s provided an opportunity that I’m taking advantage of and using to better myself.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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