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Housing program for veterans may accept some non-vets

By GARY WARTH | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: July 29, 2019

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) -- Veterans Village of San Diego will ask the City Council on Tuesday to allow it to accept non-veterans into its residential program, a step expected to improve the nonprofit's finances while serving more people.

That and other proposed changes going before the council next week have already been approved by the San Diego Housing Commission, which has a contract with Veterans Village for services.

The nonprofit has various programs and facilities, including a 224-bed Veterans Rehabilitation Center for men and women who served in the military, but it has faced some financial and vacancy challenges recently.

Rick Gentry, president and CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission, said the nonprofit's residential campus has had a significant number of vacant beds for years -- some programs were only half or a quarter full -- which would put Veterans Village out of compliance with its contract with the Housing Commission.

While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funds the nonprofit's programs, the Housing Commission has invested $9.9 million in grants and loans to support the campus over the years with the expectation that 364 beds would be provided for homeless veterans with low incomes, Gentry said.

The commission doesn't require repayment of the loans, Gentry said, but non-compliance with its agreement could result in the commission taking over the facility and finding another operator.

"That's not a threat," he said. "Just a statement of our own responsibilities. When we put the money in there, it's for a specific purpose. We look for operational compliance."

Compounding the nonprofit's challenges, Veterans Village CEO Kim Mitchell said the organization was negatively affected last year when the county began participating in the state's Drug Medi-Cal Organized Delivery System, which put participating service providers and public agencies under one umbrella and created access to more federal funding.

In the past, the rehabilitation center had received funding from both the county and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, but Mitchell said patients could not enroll in both under Drug Medi-Cal. She said Veterans Village was losing $100,000 a month earlier this year because of the rule, but the nonprofit since has balanced its budget after creating separate programs for each funding source.

The county also increased the number of Drug Medi-Cal patients who could enroll in the rehabilitation center to 56, she said, adding that there are about 25 people in the county-funded program and about 176 people in VA-funded program.

In another change going before the council, some non-veterans may be allowed to enroll in Veterans Village of San Diego programs, and the threshold for who is eligible to enroll may be lowered.

Gentry said the Housing Commission began working with Veterans Village on its vacancy issue in late 2016, before Mitchell joined the organization in July 2017. In February 2017, the commission entered an agreement with the nonprofit, meaning it would not take action against them for being in noncompliance, giving both sides time to work on a plan to lower its vacancy rate.

Part of that plan was to change the income eligibility. Gentry said the change would make people eligible for programs if they earn 80 percent of the area median income, or $59,950 annually for a single person, while now the threshold is 50 percent, or $37,400.

The area median income for in San Diego County is $86,300 this year.

In the request to allow some non-veterans into Veterans Village, it's unclear how many more beds would be filled. The report going before the council states non-veterans would be allowed "in certain circumstances."

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs already has given approval for Veterans Village to allow a portion of its beds to be occupied by non-veterans.

Mitchell said the organization will continue to focus on veterans.

"If they're not a vet and we have beds open, we'll certainly consider bringing them in, but vets will always get priority," she said.
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