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U.S. Vets Hawaii partners with Waikiki Health Center to combat homelessness

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Mar 19 2013 06:50:00 PM HST

It's been 10 years since the Iraq War started, taking the lives of nearly 5000 service members and adding a wave of veterans who are struggling to reintegrate back into society. Those battling to keep them off the streets are changing up their game.

HONOLULU -

"How do you like the Chinese garden?" Stu Murray asked KITV reporter Lara Yamada, showing her the front of the house he's been living in for three weeks.

He is an Air Force veteran, private adviser, and overall hard working-guy.

Stuart Murray now has what's eluded him for more than a year: A place to live.

"That's a bed that hasn't been put together. And you could put a circus in here," he said, showing off the living room.

"It's such a great problem here in Hawaii. We're really trying to figure out how to solve that problem," said Dr. Kim Cook, executive eirector at U.S. Vets in Kapolei. In any given night, up to 500 veterans are living homeless in Hawaii, she said.

"I got into a long period of homelessness," said veteran Michael Berry, who is one of several hundred who have gone through the program's transitional housing.

He said it was fit for him, but he knows it's not for everyone.

"I'm just really grateful for the help I receive here," said Berry.

"Our traditional program has been our transitional housing program and that is a highly structured environment," said Cook.

Murray is one of the first phases of veterans considered chronically homeless, and part of a new less-structured program called Housing First.

"So that veterans can get directly off the streets into their own unit, and we wrap them around with services," said Cook.

U.S. Vets finally got the money that they needed in July 2012 to find the Housing First program.

It was a one-time chunk of money that they hope lawmakers will fund it again to keep the program running.

"They've sacrificed part of their lives for our freedom. We're just basically giving back to them what they've given to us," said Cook.

"It's fantastic. It was wonderful. I'm very grateful and everybody is so nice," said Murray.

U-S Vets partnered with the Waikiki Health Center to launch the Housing First program.

So far, there are 24 units: 12 for vets, 12 for non-vets.

Two bills are before lawmakers this legislative session that would fund the program for at least another year.

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