According to data from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA), over 770,000 veterans are living in Ohio, and approximately nine percent of Ohioans are veterans. As housing prices rise across the state, how are veterans in Ohio coping with these costs?
For many of them, high housing costs lead to instability and homelessness. In a recent report, OHFA determined that between the years of 2012 to 2016, over 11,000 veterans received homelessness-related services. In 2016 alone, Continuum of Care organizations (CoCs) across Ohio served over 4,400 veterans. These services include emergency shelter, permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, a safe haven and transitional housing, all of which were provided by CoCs across the state of Ohio.
However, veteran status was unknown for over 6,000 clients, and the report only obtained data from seven out of nine of Ohio's CoCs. This means that many more veterans may be struggling with homelessness in Ohio.
A person is considered cost burdened when they spend over 30 percent of their income on housing costs, and more veterans are struggling with a lack of affordable rental housing and for-sale homes. Statewide, post-9/11 veterans' median earnings are sufficient to afford a one-bedroom apartment at a fair market rent, as computed by HUD. However, in Columbus and Cincinnati, that same level of income would not be enough to afford a median-priced home, meaning that these veterans may struggle to become homeowners in those metropolitan areas. Homeownership is a pathway to gaining economic stability for many Americans, and Ohio's veterans may struggle to tap into that source of wealth.
To address this crisis, OHFA has provided funding to multiple affordable housing developments across the state that serve veterans and their specific needs. Most recently, OHFA visited Freedom's Path in Chillicothe, Ohio, to hear the stories of veterans living in this development.
Freedom's Path contains 60 units of housing on the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in Chillicothe. Because of its proximity to the VA, residents have easy access to their health care providers and other VA resources, such as food and clothing banks, mental health services and more. The development itself also includes a community room, a computer center, a fitness center, a library and counseling offices. In addition, 31 of the 60 units is eligible for project-based rental assistance through the HUD-VASH program, which provides permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans and their families.
James came to Freedom's Path after traveling the country alone for over a decade. For 12 years, he hitchhiked and worked as a chef in towns across the country, eventually settling for some time in Las Vegas. He enjoyed military life, but he struggled with mental and physical health issues, surviving multiple heart attacks.
When he came to Freedom's Path, he said he felt more at peace. His PTSD symptoms began to improve, and he's taking classes to become a drug and alcohol counselor for other veterans. He's also become more involved within the Chillicothe community; for example, he regularly goes fishing with his friend, Curtis, who is a fellow resident at Freedom's Path and a veteran who also experienced homelessness at one time.
James has also started to pursue a lifelong dream of learning how to paint. His apartment is covered with his paintings, and a corner is covered in tarps and dedicated to his new passion. Thanks to Freedom's Path, he has an affordable, safe and stable place to call home; a new community; access to VA services; and a fresh start on life.
To learn more about Freedom's Path, watch the video below.