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Veterans commission mulls vouchers for homeless vets

Local businesses would be tapped to provide vouchers for items ranging from sleeping bags to haircuts.

WWII veteran holding the American Flag at a memorial in Washingt
WWII veteran holding the American Flag at a memorial in Washington District of Columbia
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SUPERIOR — A booklet of vouchers, providing everything from a free sleeping bag to one free sandwich a month, could one day be offered to homeless veterans in Douglas County.

Veterans Service Officer Erick Hudson brought the coupon booklet idea to the Veterans Commission June 28 as a way to offer more support to area veterans and utilize Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund dollars.

“People donate to that fund with the idea of that money is going to go to help veterans, and it does, but there’s a large and growing pot of money sitting there,” Hudson said. “So my thought on that is let’s find some other way to use that money. You know, find something we can do while still having enough there to use when we need it.”

He proposed creating two different booklets, one for homeless veterans and another for veterans returning from deployment. Community businesses and agencies could step up to sponsor all or some of the cost for each of the items, with additional dollars available from the relief fund.

“I like that idea because it’s not just us buying things. It’s the community being active and participating,” Hudson said.

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Returning veterans would get vouchers aimed at helping them reintegrate and feel appreciated in the community, such as free oil changes or a meal at a local restaurant. The booklet for homeless veterans would focus on food, shelter and ways to keep warm.

Commission members Butch Liebaert and Ron Leino said they thought it was a good idea, but wanted to know more about the cost before approving something. Liebaert was also interested in how quantities would be monitored.

Any business, agency or group interested in providing vouchers to Douglas County veterans can contact the veterans service office at 715-395-1331 or email erick.hudson@douglascountywi.org .

Help for the homeless

“My mission right now is the homelessness in the area, because it’s a huge issue and we have so few resources here for them on this side of the bridge,” Hudson told the commission.

An average of two homeless veterans per month have sought help from the veterans service office, but Hudson said he’s seen an uptick in those numbers the last few months. If they can’t get services quickly, many veterans migrate elsewhere.

Funds from the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund can be used to put homeless veterans up at a hotel for a weekend, he said, but that’s kind of where it ends. Local shelters are often full and only offer housing for a limited time. Finding a home or an apartment in the current housing crunch is another challenge.

“It takes months, if not years sometimes to get into those. And then in the meantime the vet’s just sitting out, you know, on the street,” Hudson said.

He knows of one Douglas County veteran who’s been waiting a year for a place to live.

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“We’ve got good initial services, and we’ve got a good long-term plan, but that middle area’s where we’re really missing a lot,” Hudson said.

He said at times he has encouraged veterans to go to Minnesota. Once they spend one night homeless in Minnesota, they qualify for services through the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans.

In other business:

The commission also discussed revisiting its Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund policy in the future. Currently, if a veteran is in need of more than $800 worth of help in a 12-month period, the policy states the veterans service officer can grant the request in extreme circumstances.

The commission has made it a practice for those situations to be approved by its members, and they’ve used phone calls to accomplish that. Talking about it outside of a meeting, however, violates open meeting laws.

“(County Clerk) Sue Sandvick pointed it out,” Leino said.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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