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Homeless veterans placed into housing at annual Sooner Stand Down

Daily Oklahoman - 9/16/2017

Sept. 16--When Rebecca Bone signed her lease and began moving into her new apartment Friday, it was a major step toward rectifying a situation that could have ended tragically.

A U.S. Army veteran, Bone, 47, served as a cook during Operation Desert Storm. Years after her Army service ended, she suffered a spinal cord injury, making it difficult to work. Then, when she and her husband divorced in 2009, she was left with almost nothing, she said.

After the divorce, Bone worked odd jobs to pay bills, but it was difficult to keep up with rent payments. Then, a few weeks ago, she lost her home and ended up on the street.

At first, she spent nights in her 1989 Toyota Corolla. About two weeks ago, she called a crisis hotline and said she was considering suicide.

After a week at the VA Hospital in Oklahoma City, Bone was referred to the Serenity Outreach Recovery Community, a facility in northeast Oklahoma City.

On Friday, Bone was one of 10 people who were placed into housing as a part of the Sooner Stand Down, an annual event at which low-income veterans get access to medical care, case management and other services. Advocates expect to place another 15 homeless veterans and family members into housing early next week.

"It's pretty amazing," Bone said. "I had a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of work for me."

Most of the agencies involved in Friday's event are a part of Journey Home OKC, an initiative that seeks to end chronic homelessness and homelessness among veterans citywide.

By the end of 2015, advocates had hoped to reach the so-called functional zero mark among homeless veterans, meaning that support systems would be in place to house any veteran who falls into homelessness within 30 days. Although advocates have housed hundreds of homeless veterans since launching the campaign, the city is still struggling to meet that mark.

Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance, said advocates estimate there are about 195 homeless veterans in central Oklahoma. Each month, advocates find housing for about 20 homeless veterans, but another 20 fall into homelessness, he said. So while the homeless population isn't growing substantially, advocates haven't made much headway.

"We've held the line, but we haven't made progress," he said.

A number of challenges have made it more difficult to house homeless veterans than advocates had anticipated. Chief among them is a lack of affordable housing in Oklahoma City, he said.

The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency and the Oklahoma City Housing Authority have both closed their waiting lists for Housing Choice vouchers, more commonly known as Section 8. Those closures eliminate one of the main tools advocates use for housing homeless people, Straughan said.

Still, Straughan said he was optimistic about efforts to house homeless veterans. The city has seen success with its model of placing homeless people, including veterans, into housing with no preconditions and then addressing any physical or mental health problems or addiction issues they may have, he said.

"We have the mechanisms in place," Straughan said. "Once we get people into housing, they tend to stay in housing."

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