Salem nonprofit serving houseless veterans looks to expand with VA grant

Ken Samples poses for a photo at VETcare, a Salem nonprofit which offers transitional housing for veterans. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Ken Samples is looking forward to a better night’s sleep.

The Vietnam veteran has been staying at VETcare for the past four months, a Salem nonprofit that opened in 2017 to serve houseless veterans.

He said he has severe PTSD. He likes his roommate, but the roommate has sleep apnea and snores loudly.

A nearly $1.5 million grant from the VA Portland Health Care System will help men like Samples sleep more soundly.

Ray Powers, the organization’s program director, said the grant money will allow the nonprofit to expand to another facility.

The program currently has 15 rooms with two beds in each. He said having a new facility where each client can have their own room will help those who suffer from PTSD and anxiety.

He said that will allow the nonprofit to branch out and help families and female veterans as well in the current space on 2933 Center Street N.E. 

VETcare is behind Tanner House, which opened last year to serve as a low-barrier shelter for veterans experiencing homelessness, especially women.  

The YMCA is also building veteran housing to fill the need.

VETcare currently serves men and requires its residents to be clean and sober.

Veterans in general face a greater risk for homelessness than their civilian counterparts. 

According to the 2020 point in time count, an annual snapshot of homelessness provided to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 51 veterans experiencing homelessness in Marion and Polk counties. The point in time count is known to historically undercount the number of people experiencing homelessness because of how the data is collected.

Powers said in the last three years, the nonprofit has help 188 servicemembers with 86% of them moving on to permanent housing.

Veterans typically stay in the transitional housing for up to nine months but can stay for up to two years if necessary, he said.

Powers said during the pandemic there were a lot of people who didn’t want to come into transitional housing.

“The facility was down to half capacity mid-way though the pandemic because people didn’t want to come into community living,” he said. “We’re getting back to capacity as the pandemic has eased a little bit.”

Similar to before the pandemic, he said there are more people who need services than VETcare has beds for.

He said the program offers classes on renting, life skills and anger management classes, among others.

Powers said once someone leaves the transitional housing program, they get six months of continued mental health care.

The grant also provides $225,000 for case management so that case workers can follow veterans once they move into permanent housing.  

They keep track of them for six months to make sure they’re stably housed, Powers said.

He said that can involve getting people set up with government benefits, find jobs, learn life skills and address medical issues. 

A sign outside VETcare, a nonprofit which offers transitional housing for veterans. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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