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Thursday, August 03, 2017 1:00 am

Shepherd's House gets 2nd chance

Vets shelter can request 1 more year on grant

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Shepherd's House will get another crack at federal funding to provide temporary housing for homeless military veterans after its request for a nearly $500,000 grant was turned down.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks said Wednesday the Department of Veterans Affairs has informed him that current grant recipients who were denied money for fiscal 2018 – Shepherd's House of Fort Wayne among them – can apply for a one-year funding extension.

If approved, the extensions will be available for veterans housed in qualifying shelters as of Sept. 30.

“That would give Shepherd's House more time to work on their proposal and for the VA to provide them more feedback on how they can adapt and be eligible for the grant moving forward,” Banks, R-3rd, said in an interview at IPFW, where he and his staff were sponsoring a job fair.

“It doesn't solve the issue, but we were pleased with that outcome after pushing the VA,” he said.

Shepherd's House manager Tracey Barr said she was thankful for Banks' advocacy in the matter. The freshman lawmaker from Columbia City is a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

“Certainly we appreciate the extension. It buys us some time to work on funding of a more permanent, long-term nature,” Barr said in a telephone interview.

Banks wrote a letter last week to VA Secretary David Shulkin, asking him for information on the apparent denial of a grant that Shepherd's House had sought through the VA's Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program, or GPD. The shelter on Tennessee Avenue near Spy Run has counted on a 2009 GPD grant to supply 80 percent of its $622,000 yearly budget.

VA told Banks that Shepherd's House “did not meet the minimum scoring requirements to be eligible for funding.”

VA announced last December it would terminate existing GPD grants and require recipients to reapply by April for competitive, performance-based, yearlong grants. Shepherd's House co-founder Barb Cox said last week the nonprofit organization would have to scale back services, find alternative funding sources or face closure if it lost VA funding.

Shepherd's House provides shelter to as many as 40 homeless veterans at a time under its current grant. Even if it is approved for a grant extension for Sept. 30 residents, the nonprofit operation must find money to house future residents, Barr said.

“The question still remains: Do we need funding? Of course,” she said. “We are going to have to apply for grants, foundation grants, rely on the community, businesses.”

She said Shepherd's House has seen an outpouring of support since the VA grant rejection was first reported last week. Offers of financial assistance have come from Huntington and Angola as well as Fort Wayne. Barr said she received six phone calls Tuesday from people offering to have fundraisers.

“I'm encouraged by those calls,” she said. “Those are showing that the community is behind us ... and they believe in what we do and who we are.”

Banks said the grant denial “is a disappointing and pretty abrupt change in their funding. Hopefully this will lead to good things for Shepherd's House to look for new revenue sources, to not be entirely dependent on a federal grant.

“But also I'm doing everything I can to fight for their eligibility for a federal grant as they exist, and the one-year, temporary stopgap measure buys us some time to continue to look at other solutions.”

A VA spokesperson confirmed the grant extension period. In an email Friday, the spokesperson said VA is updating its homeless programs to encourage permanent housing rather than transitional housing.

That shift in focus might be a reason that Shepherd's House, which allows residents to stay for as long as 24 months under VA rules, saw its 2018 GPD application refused. But Barr said VA invited grant applications in five categories, including clinical care. Shepherd's House provides clinical and psychological treatment for chemical dependency.

“We weren't going after something that wasn't an option,” Barr said. “If (VA) didn't want us to go after it, they wouldn't have put it out there.”

She also said: “Our mission for the last 20 years has been transitional, and it's based on the fact that men with addictions need this type of housing before they go to permanent housing. We believe what we do works, and I don't believe there would be any plans to change from that.”

Barr said that although permanent housing “is the ultimate goal” for homeless veterans shelters, VA's 90-day “bridge” housing does not work for many with drug and alcohol addictions.

“We have a proven track record. When a man stays here and his stay is driven clinically and not from pressure to get housed, he is more successful in his sobriety in the long run,” Barr said. “He's not going to repeat three, four times and be in and out of the system because he's been asked to house up rapidly before he is ready.

“We've had some very successful veterans ... who stayed here one or two years. They're still sober five years later and functioning very well,” she said.

“This is what we're about,” Barr said. “This is what has worked and continues to work.”

Banks said: “I'm looking for solutions in all of this, maybe legislatively, to look for ways that we can protect programs like Shepherd's House, because there's nothing else like it in our region that provides the services that it provides.”

bfrancisco@jg.net