Las Vegas has homeless veterans covered

As federal and local officials prepared to celebrate the Las Vegas valley having enough resources to house every homeless veteran, a woman struggled to find permanent housing for her brother — a Vietnam War veteran — on Tuesday.

Joan Donegan, 77, spent the last two weeks fruitlessly searching for housing services available for homeless veterans. Her brother Kenneth J. Sipich, 67, who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, suffers from bipolar disorder.

Sipich is currently renting a room from a nephew who is moving to Colorado next month. Donegan said she can’t take in her brother because it would be difficult, given his mental illness, and she doesn’t want him to end up in the streets.

“The information that I got didn’t lead me to any help,” she said Tuesday. “It just sort of feels like a dead end. I would like to see that they are helping by responding.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro is scheduled to join local leaders at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Smith Center for Performing Arts to applaud the valley for having met the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

In 2010, President Barack Obama also launched Opening Doors, an ambitious federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness by the end of this year. During a recent media conference call, however, Castro acknowledged that the aggressive goal is not going to be met nationally.

Officials hope the current momentum, such as the success in the Las Vegas valley, could help the nation meet that goal, said Eduardo Cabrera, a HUD spokesman.

“We still have work to do in other communities to get to zero,” he said Tuesday.

The Mayors Challenge was a national call to action announced in 2014 by First Lady Michelle Obama. The cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Mesquite, as well as Clark County, have been recognized for meeting that goal, said Josh Brown, chief of social work service at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.

Southern Nevada has achieved “functional zero,” he said. That means that the valley has enough services and programs in place to house every homeless veteran.

For example, if a person identified himself as a veteran and asked for services, officials would be able to get the person housed.

“I’m excited that the (mayors) have supported and stood behind this, and as a community, we all can achieve this,” Brown said Monday. “Does that mean that we still have some work to do down the road? Absolutely.”

Several agencies came together to make this happen in Southern Nevada, said Michele Fuller-Hallauer, continuum of care coordinator for the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition.

More than 1,400 veterans have been housed since the beginning of this year in the valley, she said.

Clark County officials were reaching out to Donegan late Tuesday to try to help her.

All who identify themselves as veterans go through an assessment process to verify that they are in fact veterans, assess their needs and determine services for which they are eligible. A veteran can undergo an assessment at the VA Southern Nevada Community Resource and Referral Center at 916 W. Owens Ave. or can be referred to any other agency assisting homeless veterans in the community.

A list of all veterans who have declared themselves homeless has been created. The various agencies are using that list to continue their work.

As of two to three weeks ago, 350 veterans were on the list, Brown said. A total of 310 had been identified as homeless and were in the process of getting housed, while 40 of them had yet to accept a housing plan.

It takes about 90 days to get a veteran into permanent housing from the time the person identifies as homeless, he said. Officials are working to reduce that time frame.

Officials are available to guide people down the right path, said Jace Radke, spokesman for the city of Las Vegas.

But veterans don’t always want the help, he said.

“You can’t force somebody into getting help,” he said Tuesday. “Some people are service-resistant. They are out there. They don’t want help. That’s their choice.”

Wednesday’s celebration of Southern Nevada’s success also marks the beginning of a new challenge. Officials now must ensure the achievement is sustained, said Wendy Simons, deputy director of wellness at the Nevada Department of Veteran Services.

“I think part of Nevada’s challenge is that we have a lot of migration,” she said.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3843. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro

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