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Veterans' homeless assistance is top priority

WASHINGTON - Tribes have gotten top priority for a veterans' homeless assistance program that until now has been vastly underused to assist tribal veterans.

Tribes will receive top priority to be funded for 150 transitional beds, 10 percent of the program total of 1,500 beds and $15 million, under the Department of Veterans Affairs Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program.

Applications are due Jan. 28, 2004. In 2003's funding round, only two tribal applications were received, according to DVA. And according to the National American Indian Housing Council, tribes have gotten just $979,000 in funding through this program since it started in 1994, despite the growing epidemic of homeless Native veterans.

If tribes apply for more than the 10 percent set aside for them, those rejected will still be eligible for third priority, which has a set aside of 450 beds.

In addition, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans will be awarding up to $1,000 apiece in technical assistance grants to groups hoping to qualify for money under this program. The group will award $25,000 maximum. The Coalition, based in Washington, is holding a 90 minute teleconference on the program Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. EST.

The awards will be made under the "per diem" part of the program as described this way in the Federal Register: "Funding applied for under this program may be used for aid for service centers and supportive housing. Funding will be in the form of per diem payments issued to eligible entities for a period not to exceed 36 months."

NAIHC noted that the DVA's Native American Veterans Direct Home Loan program has also been tremendously underused. A report by the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, found that the program funded more home loans for Native Hawaiian veterans than for the rest of the country combined. Just 38 loans had been made to Native Americans through the program, GAO found.

The housing trade group noted that tribes in high-cost area can ask for the $80,000 maximum loan amount to be raised.

DVA says there are 200,000 Native veterans and that one in four of the country's homeless population is a veteran.

Peter Dougherty, DVA homeless program director, said "we are very interested in seeing that our veterans on tribal lands that have fallen on hard times get an opportunity to benefit from the services this program offers."

And Gary Gordon, NAIHC executive director, said "there are special legal, cultural and other circumstances involved when making loans to residents living on tribal lands, therefore, housing programs that accommodate the unique needs of Native Americans are quite valuable."