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With an estimated 108,000 veterans in Montana, one of the highest per capita populations in the nation, a plan by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to aggressively address homelessness is welcome news.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has announced a program providing enhanced services to low-income veterans and their families who are at risk of being homeless. Under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, the VA will provide grants to private, nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives that will help break the cycle of homelessness among America's vets.

The program will deliver grants to community agencies for vocational and rehabilitation counseling, employment and training service, educational assistance and health care services.

Agencies will also provide direct financial assistance for daily living, transportation, child care, rent and utilities and other expenses. Agencies may also propose funding for additional services in their supportive services grant application based on the specific needs of their communities and local veterans.

Billy Holder, director of Veterans Services for Volunteers of America in Montana and Wyoming, said the organization supports all programs available to veterans. He said VOA has worked with the VA to get veterans the services they need and are entitled to. VOA operates Independence Hall, a transitional living center in the Heights with beds for 20 veterans. Veterans work toward employment, continued education, vocational rehabilitation and saving for permanent housing.

“Our focus at Independence Hall is to get veterans jobs so they can get back on their feet and back in the community,” Holder said. “That's what most of them want.”

Eligible veteran families for the new program include those who are residing in permanent housing, are homeless and scheduled to become residents of permanent housing within a specified time period, or who have left permanent housing and are seeking other housing that is responsive to such very low-income veteran family's needs and preferences.

“The program is another way the VA is leading the charge to end and prevent homelessness among our nation's veterans,” said Mike Molina, public affairs officer for the VA Montana Health Care System.

Ending homelessness for veterans and their families will require all segments of the community to work together. This new program will help more local organizations support veterans when they need it most.

“This new program will provide valuable new tools in our campaign to end homelessness among veterans and their families,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said. “Partnering with homeless agencies across this country, we will attack the problems that underlie homelessness and, for the first time, fund services for the spouses and children of homeless veterans.”

Local nonprofit agencies that support Montana's Veterans should be on the lookout for instructions on how to apply for grants under this program. By mid-December, VA officials will provide local agencies with the instructions necessary to apply for grants under the program.

The program is available for public viewing at www.ofr.gov.

Contact Cindy Uken at cuken@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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Contact Cindy Uken at cuken@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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