Lynchburg vet says Virginia hasn't won the war on veteran homelessness

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LYNCHBURG (WSLS 10) – In his State of the Commonwealth address, Governor Terry McAuliffe repeated Virginia was the first state to "functionally end veteran homelessness".  McAuliffe did not define "functionally end" in Wednesday's address.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Veterans Affairs certified Virginia as the first state in the nation to functionally end veteran homelessness in 2015.  To receive the designation a community or state must identify all veterans experiencing homelessness and provide shelter to any homeless veteran who wants it.

WSLS 10 took the claim to a man who works with the homeless and a formerly homeless veteran, who both say veteran homeless numbers can't accurately be measured.

Army veteran Gerald King's living room is decorated with his college graduation tassels. He worked to earn his machine, tool and quality degree at Central Virginia Community College while he was homeless.

"I'd stay at school as long as I could, then I'd come back to the train station," said King.

The train station in Lynchburg is where King slept when his time at the shelter was up. After months of paperwork and red tape, King says Jaqueline Jones, the city's homeless services coordinator, was finally able to get him into his Lynchburg apartment.

Under Virginia's Veterans Rapid Free Housing program, the state pays rent directly to landlords for eligible homeless veterans. Richard Hughes showed up on King's moving day.

Hughes' organization, WarmStreets, finds furniture for veterans making the transition to permanent housing. The program helped move eight veterans in the last year, but that's only half of the homeless veterans Hughes knows of in the Lynchburg area.

The state can find the veterans staying in shelters, but both Hughes and King say there's no way for even the Governor to count the veterans still on the streets or sleeping in a car or a buddy's couch.

"A lot of them, they just don't want to go in facilities or put their name on a list or anything like that," said King. "There's a lot of them out there."

King believes the state has not identified all homeless veterans or offered them a place to live, which are both requirements to receive the federal designation.

"It's like declaring victory when the war's not over," said Richard Hughes. "But the war really won't be over because there will always be vets. The solider today is a vet tomorrow. Most of them, hopefully, will get good jobs and go on. Some of them will end up on the street."

That's the same place King once called home.

"You never know at the shelter if that's your last day," said King.

Now King's only major worry is finding a job, not a place to lay his head.

The Commonwealth uses the Department of Housing and Urban Development's standards to measure veteran homelessness. For a veteran to be considered not homeless, he or she must be in permanent housing, not just staying somewhere temporarily. Veterans in shelters are counted as homeless.