NORTHFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has new guidelines for grants and The Veterans' Place in Northfield didn't make the cut. The program will get money for the next year, but its administrators are worried about what will happen after that.
James Ray Savana was homeless for seven years before coming to Vermont.
"I didn't think I had much left," said Savana. "Turns out, I've got a lot."
He does have a lot. In the last year, the Air Force veteran started to work again and volunteer. At age 73, he even signed up for classes at Norwich University. The grandfather says he owes it all to the Veterans' Place, which is a transitional housing facility in Northfield.
"They've been supportive. A thing I like about it is they're nonjudgmental," said Savana.
The Veterans' Place has served more than 240 people. Veterans get food and hygiene products, and receive help with job and disability applications.
"Just a general place to start over and collect your thoughts," said Anthony Dragon, a veteran at the facility.
But staff members like Karen Boyce are worried about the future of the program.
"Three-quarters of our funding comes from the VA," said Boyce. "Our operational costs are about $500,000 a year."
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it was changing its two-decades old guidelines for which programs qualify for grants. The goal is to focus on permanent housing for homeless veterans.
Monday, The Veterans' Place received a letter in the mail saying it didn't meet the new criteria. But the VA is extending funding for one year, giving the programs a chance to reapply and keep their doors open. The department released a statement, saying "the extension will give those organizations a chance to improve the effectiveness of their programs."
Boyce is eagerly awaiting the online evaluation to be posted so she can figure out why The Veterans' Place didn't get the money.
"I tried to go to find out and it's not up yet, so we don't know,” said Boyce.
She guesses that it's because the program is seen as too strict. Boyce says the facility has changed some of its requirements and taken more of an understanding approach to meet the VA's standards.
"I think that's why we weren't approved. We didn't toot our own horn enough in the application, saying we do give guys second and third chances,” said Boyce.
The Veterans' Place plans to reapply for the money in October. But Boyce says she will look for support from other organizations in case the program still doesn't meet the VA's guidelines.
For Savana, the murky fate of a place that gave him back his life is unsettling.
"It doesn't make any sense not to take care of veterans," said Savana.
The Veterans’ Place has 26 beds and houses people for up to two years. Boyce says she doesn't yet know when the VA will decide on next year's funding applications.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, weighed in on the topic and sent us a statement saying: "No veteran in America should go homeless... As a longtime member and former chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I strongly believe we must redouble our efforts to ensure veterans have access to all the care and benefits they have earned and deserve."