By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Roosevelt and Curry counties are among 19 in the state receiving help through an expansion of Goodwill Industries of New Mexico’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which offers case management and temporary financial assistance for homeless and near-homeless veterans.
According to Terry Armstrong, case management director for the state’s Goodwill Industries, the expansion of the federal Veteran Affairs-funded program was due to an increase in grant funding, from $574,000 in 2011 to $1.1 million this month.
“We’re really excited to bring this to the area,” Armstrong said about the eastern side of the state. “We were one of the first grantees in the nation to receive the funding in 2011.”
Armstrong says the program served the Albuquerque area in Bernalillo County and other surrounding counties because it originally focused on underserved Native American populations of veterans.
“It’s one of the primary reasons we went to the northwest region,” Armstrong said.
He said the program’s success prompted Goodwill to apply for more money and it will now serve 26 counties.
The program’s financial assistance component is the most unique part, says Armstrong. Officials can grant financial assistance for rent, utilities, car repairs, child care, moving costs and legal assistance among other things to help veterans get on their feet.
“That’s a big deal, people come to us and we’re able to pay for rent (or help with past-due rental arrangements) … which is really unique in a federal grant program,” Armstrong said. “What makes this really cool, it’s not just the homeless vets, it’s those that are about to become homeless. If a veteran comes to us and says, ‘I just got an eviction notice and my family is going to be in the streets,’ we get involved and prevent that from happening.”
To qualify for assistance, Armstrong says veterans have to be, at minimum, below 50 percent of the average medium income of the county they live in. All veterans are accepted except for those who have a dishonorable discharge, per VA policy.
As far as how much assistance the veteran can receive, Armstrong says it varies.
“For example, rental assistance (can be given) up to eight months in a three-year period and no more than five months in a 12-month period,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, considers homeless vets in the state a serious issue.
“Homelessness among veterans is a serious problem that we must solve and I am pleased to see funding go to these great partners on the ground who are working to help our veterans throughout our state,” Udall said. “It’s especially important to ensure services are in place as more of our military men and women come home to New Mexico from serving overseas, and I won’t stop pushing to ensure the federal government is doing everything it can to help provide access to housing, employment and other essential services in their communities after defending our country around the world.”