Augusta looks to solve veteran homelessness and abandoned houses with new program

Abandoned Home in Augusta
Abandoned Home in Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Augusta Housing and Development officials are working with the city to help reduce the number of homeless veterans and abandoned houses in the area. They’re proposing their new H.O.U.S.E.S. Initiative to city leaders.

As veteran homelessness continues to decline across the country, this new initiative could help Augusta reach the national mandate of putting an end to it all. City leaders say it’s the lack of affordable housing that’s holding them back from reaching their goal.

A partnership between four different city agencies and several veterans groups is looking to solve two major problems plaguing Augusta at once. The idea is simple, city agencies will take one of the many abandoned houses seized by the tax commissioner, renovate them, and then place a homeless vet in the home at an affordable rate for a shot at permanent residence.

“So it’s taking assets you have, funding you have, in a way it’s already purposed to give an individual an opportunity that both veterans, housing, as well as housing and urban development are saying is the best way to get somebody back to self-sufficiency,” said Deputy Director of Augusta Housing and Development Shawn Edwards.

Those who work with veterans say they can slip into homelessness easily when unforeseen medical expenses render them unable to pay rent.

“In addition to a disability and being unable to work, the disability payments they would be receiving are relatively low. So again for them, any blip in their budget could land them at risk,” said Jeanette Gilles, the Collaborative Services Director at the Augusta Warrior Project.

There are hundreds of houses in Augusta that have been taken over by the tax commissioner. But the program is in early pilot stages. Only three houses will be chosen for renovations, and three veterans will live in them.

Gilles believes it will grow with time.

“We’re very hopeful about it, we’re very excited about it. I think it’s something that definitely could grow over time we’re going to be putting programs into place where we can do case management with the veterans that are in the program and help them maintain their stability,” Gilles said.

Officials tell us the houses selected for the program will be near public transportation, hospitals, and grocery stores. The abandoned house renovations will be done using federal grant money. The homes are currently just accumulating maintenance and insurance costs.

“Ending veterans homelessness but in a way that doesn’t impact our community, doesn’t stress our non-profits, and doesn’t change what will be the long term success of our most valued individuals who are our soldiers who are coming back home,” Edwards said.

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