Native American Veterans Find a Pathway from Homelessness with HUD-VA Program

After her military service, Alvina White Bull struggled to maintain civilian employment, which led to problems with drugs and alcohol. As she tried to deal with those problems on her own, they escalated — eventually resulting in an arrest and jail time. Alvina served her time and re-entered civilian life, but she still found herself in a bad spot, without a permanent home or job.

“My worst fear was to end up back in jail because of not establishing myself,” she said.Image: Tribal HUD-VASH Program

Alvina determined that she needed help to make sure that didn’t happen, so she met with a vocational rehabilitation specialist at VA. The specialist recognized that because Alvina is a Veteran and member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, she is eligible for support that VA offers just to Native American Veterans through a program called Tribal HUD-VASH. So Alvina was referred to the Pine Ridge VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and from there she was enrolled in transitional housing and Compensated Work Therapy. Today, Alvina has her own place and works full-time as housekeeper and motor vehicle operator at the Indian Health Service in Pine Ridge.

Tribal HUD-VASH is a joint program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and VA. Established in January 2015, the program offers permanent housing and supportive services to Native American Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. These supportive services — including rental assistance, case management, and physical and mental health care — set the Veterans up for continued success in their new homes.

Bill Fahrenbruck, the Homeless Program Manager at VA Black Hills Health Care System in South Dakota, oversees three Tribal HUD-VASH program and is committed to helping Veterans achieve housing stability.

“No matter if the Veteran relapses, we’re not going to kick [them] out,” Fahrenbruck said. “We’re going to walk alongside [them]. They go to jail, we’re going to walk alongside [them]. There’s a death in the family, we’re going to walk alongside [them].”

Fahrenbruck said the program is designed to do just that — to bring Veterans all the way through the process so they end up firmly back on their feet with a roof over their head and sights set toward a more positive future.

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