, , ,

Tomah VA Discontinues Lease For Homeless Veterans Shelter

VA Officials Say Program Is No Longer Safe, But Shelter Official Says He's 'Flabbergasted' By Decision

Tomah VA
Tomah VA Medical Center. Maureen McCollum/WPR

The Veterans Assistance Foundation has operated a shelter for homeless veterans at the Tomah VA Medical Center for nearly 20 years. That will come to an end in January.

Recent incidents at the shelter prompted the medical center to give a 90-day notice to end the lease agreement with VAF, said Matthew Gowan, Tomah VA public affairs officer.

“In the last of six months, the VA Police have responded to more than 30 different incidents involving VAF residents, including a suicide attempt, accidental overdose, criminal violations and numerous other law enforcement actions,” Gowan said.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Gowan also pointed to the recent death of a veteran at the VAF shelter. He said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General and the Tomah Police Department are investigating the incident.

But VAF President Christopher Hanson said Tomah officials did not share their concerns about safety with him before ending the lease agreement.

“If this was a concern, it should have been brought to me much sooner than the day that they decided they were going to shut this down,” Hanson said. “I’m flabbergasted that this has come to fruition this way.”

Hanson is serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Navy Reserve, but said he has been available via email during his deployment.

Gowan said VA officials reached out to other foundation staff about safety issues because of Hanson’s deployment.

Hanson said last month’s death at the shelter was tragic, but the VAF does have security staff to keep veterans safe.

“Unfortunately, the veterans population that we see, that go into our residential programs, that population is becoming much more difficult,” said Hanson.

He said current national programs have kept many veterans from falling into homelessness, so individuals still unsheltered often have serious issues with mental health or substance abuse.

“The nice thing about us being out at the Tomah VA was we were able to provide all of the services we provided in addition to the Tomah VA being able to provide substance abuse resources and any type of mental health care that these residents may have needed,” Hanson said.

Around 40 veterans live at the shelter, but Hanson said that number will rise as the weather grows colder.

VAF residents will be able to access care after the lease agreement ends in January, Gowan said.

“No one is saying that the VAF has to close,” Gowan said. “The Tomah VA has absolutely no authority to close a private, independent program. So they would be totally free and able to continue the program that they offer, and we would still continue to support the residents that are that program off of federal property.”

Hanson said the VAF is looking for another location, but has to gain approval from their national grant program before they can move to a new space.