ECHO headquarters

ECHO's offices on Broadway Street are closed to the public due to COVID-19. The organization recently received more than $1.244 million in grant funding to help house homeless veterans. Photo by Christian Boschult

For more than five years, the East Carolina Housing Organization, or ECHO, has received about $1 million per year in grant money from the Department of Veterans Affairs to fund its Supportive Services for Veterans Families program.

But thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, better known as the CARES Act, ECHO will get just under $1.25 million to fund its SSVF program in Fiscal Year 2020-21.

In 2017, the organization received $1 million and in 2018 and 2019, it got $1.17 million.

This year, they were awarded a little more: $1,244,248 to help homeless vets.

The money lets ECHO provide short-term rapid re-housing and homeless prevention assistance to low-income veterans and their families experiencing homelessness, and helps those in danger of becoming homeless find stability using a housing-first approach.

“Rapid re-housing is for those who are living on the street, in their car, in an abandoned building or a park,” said ECHO Chief Operating Officer Kyle Jenkins. “It also includes people who are living in emergency shelters or transitional housing. The homelessness prevention assistance is for those who are about to be evicted.”

Jenkins said that because the pandemic is making it harder for many people to pay rent, ECHO is putting a lot of focus into their eviction prevention program.

The housing organization was notified of the award last week and will get the money in October. They’re one of 266 programs receiving around $400 million in competitive SSVF grant funding this year. Jenkins said they submitted their application in spring of 2019. 

Since October 2014, ECHO has helped 917 veteran households and their families get back on their feet and find shelter.

“Each household has a veteran in it so overall, we have served 917 total veterans since 2014,” said Jenkins. “That total of 1,510 people also includes family members of veterans. We tend to see a lot of single veterans in the areas that we serve but sometimes we do get a veteran with a family.”

Jenkins says that Horry County represents a large portion of their clients, and roughly 80 to 85 percent of the veterans they see are from Horry County.

Despite the budgetary headaches wrought by COVID-19, Jenkins wasn’t worried about funding.

“The VA is pretty good at putting their money where their priorities are and we know that homelessness is a priority with the veteran’s administration,” he said.

There are a few requirements that a veteran must meet in order to receive assistance from ECHO: they have to be an eligible veteran, meaning they have to have a DD214. They can have any discharge type except for court marshalled under special conditions. They must earn under 50 percent or below the area median income for the county that they're served in, and they must be literally homeless, in transitional housing or imminently at risk of becoming homeless.

While ECHO can help put veterans up in a hotel, assist with application fees or security deposits, there are some things that ECHO cannot purchase with the grant money. 

“We can provide our clients with a bed but that is really it,” said Jenkins. “We can’t help them get furniture or large appliances such as washer-dryer sets, refrigerators and such.”

To supplement the grant money, Echo has a donation center is run by volunteers.

“Community members donate furniture from their homes or they buy new furniture and donate it that way,” said Jenkins. “Those donations go directly to those veterans since we are unable to purchase those kinds of items with the grant money we receive.”

According to ECHO’s website, some of the most needed items are silverware, dishes, cooking utensils, small trash cans, cleaning supplies, towels, chairs, small couches, end tables, pillows and mattress pads. For the full list, visit https://echousing.org/give-now/my-home.

Jenkins says that the only stipulation for donations like couches or anything with fabric is that it will be inspected to ensure that it isn’t deeply stained or infected with bed bugs. As for mattresses, Jenkins says that they need to be either very lightly-used or brand new.

For more information on how to donate, visit the website above or call 843-582-7747.

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