NEW INFORMATION: Tomah VA discontinues lease for homeless veterans shelter

Published: Oct. 27, 2016 at 8:11 AM CDT
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Dozens of veterans may not have anywhere to live next year after a decision by the Tomah VA to end its agreement with a local nonprofit.

That agreement allowed homeless veterans to live on the VA's campus.

Andrew Lamoureux, an Army veteran, doesn't know where he's going to live next year.

"Scared of the future, who isn't in this day and age with all the uncertainty?" he said.

It's because he has been living in building 407 at the Tomah VA Medical Center through an agreement between the VA and the Veterans Assistance Foundation, an organization in Tomah that helps homeless veterans.

The group had been paying to use two stories of the building to house 60 veterans and help them get back on their feet.

But last week the VA notified the group that it's ending that agreement on January 13th.

The decision came after one veteran who had been living there passed away in September, but the VA cited multiple safety concerns for the decision.

"The VAF would not put in 24/7 physical security and then also clinical safety reasons as it relates to the veterans that they're bringing in and their capacity to properly offer the therapeutic regimen to those veterans," said Matthew Gowan, Public Affairs Officer at the Tomah VA Medical Center.

But Chris Hanson, President and CEO of the Veterans Assistance Foundation, who's currently serving in Afghanistan, said over the phone that the facility is safe.

"We do contract with a private security firm that does provide security out there, and that's our number two expense, outside of the $17,000 monthly lease, is to provide security," Hanson said.

The Veterans Assistance Foundation says that not only is the building a great place to stay for the veterans to stay because it's close to medical services, but it's also in the same building as the campus police.

Both sides say their priority is helping the veterans find a place to go.

But for now, Lamoureux is waiting for answers.

"Both organizations are supposed to help veterans and they're kind of at a standstill and neither one will communicate with the other one to solve the problem," Lamoureux said.

This morning, Congressman Ron Kind stopped at the Tomah VA to meet with Interim Director Victoria Brahm about the announcement regarding the homeless shelter.

Kind later stopped at Leffel Roots Orchard just south of Eau Claire to promote a grant for them through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There, Kind said the veterans need to be everyone's first priority.

"We have to maintain lines of communication. It's crucial that we keep the focus on what's in the best interest of these homeless vets. We can get them into the proper housing setting and then help them in the transition in the wrap-around program, so they can successfully transition and reintegrate into the community again I think everyone shares that goal."

Kind said he has received assurances that no veterans would be removed from the shelter without a safe place to go.

Senator Ron Johnson also reached out to Brahm, asking for more information on the situation.

TOMAH, Wis. (AP) -- The Tomah VA Medical Center is ending a lease agreement for a shelter for homeless veterans, citing numerous problems.

The Veterans Assistance Foundation has operated the shelter for nearly 20 years. Tomah VA spokesman Matthew Gowan says authorities recently have responded to more than 30 incidents involving shelter residents, including a suicide attempt, a drug overdose and criminal violations.

Wisconsin Public Radio reports the center has given the foundation notice that it will end the lease in January.

Foundation President Christopher Hanson says he's "flabbergasted" that Tomah officials didn't share concerns about safety with him before making the decision.

Gowan says VA officials reached out to other foundation staff because Hanson is currently serving in Afghanistan. Hanson says he's available via email.

About 40 veterans live at the shelter.