Space for homeless vets will triple advocates say

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The building of a transitional housing complex on the Veterans Affairs campus in west Salt Lake City will complete a tripling of the number of beds specifically available for homeless veterans, advocates told the state Homeless Coordinating Committee on Wednesday.

And the need for those beds will be great, Salt Lake City Housing Authority director Bill Nighswonger said.

"We're going to be dealing with a lot of veterans coming into our community," from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

But VA Homeless Program supervisor Al Hernandez believes the state is up to a challenge issued by President Barack Obama to end homelessness among veterans in the next five years.

"There might be some state in which the idea of ending homelessness might be far fetched," said Hernandez, "but in Utah, I believe we can come pretty close, at least for veterans."

The men's comments came as the authority and VA have completed the transition of dozens of residents from a housing facility on the VA campus to an old motel on the west side of town. Some residents have criticized the move, which places many veterans who are struggling with addiction in part of town they say is riddled with drug dealers and much farther away from the VA services they rely upon. But Nighswonger said the purchase of the hotel is part of a plan that will allow for the completion of a new, permanent housing complex on the VA campus and expand the overall capacity for homeless veterans by 2012.