Homeless veterans struggling with substance abuse in Utah may have been kept out of a transitional housing complex on the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs campus, according to allegations from the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City.
The 72-unit Valor House, which is run jointly by the VA and Housing Authority, was designed to help end chronic veteran homelessness. But according to officials from the federally funded housing agency, the property had a 30 percent vacancy rate on average for the past three years.
Salt Lake City is facing an ongoing crisis of homelessness. The Housing Authority estimates the vacancy rate translated to nearly 11,000 nights when beds were not filled to date.
“We have veterans on the streets while we have empty beds sitting at the Valor House,” said Zac Pau’u, Deputy Director of the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City.
Pau’u said regulatory barriers under the VA’s oversight screened out difficult to treat vets suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. He also said that VA staff pay rates and promotions were tied to moving veterans through their facility, creating incentives to focus on vets with simpler needs than substance abuse issues.
A Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs spokesman denied that veterans were screened out of getting services. In a statement, the spokesman said the Housing Authority was creating “blatant misrepresentation of the truth and false allegations regarding the care of our Veterans.”
Since the dispute, officials at the Housing Authority have changed the staffing at Valor House to bring in new staff from the First Step House, a Salt Lake City addiction recovery organization.
According to a statement from the Housing Authority, they expect Valor House to be filled to capacity by February.