Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless veterans in Southern Arizona will get help under a new $1 million grant from the federal government.

The Department of Veterans Affairs awarded the grant this week to the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross, which expects to lend a hand to about 800 veterans and their families.

The Primavera Foundation of Tucson was given $877,000 in the grant program, a renewal of the organization's grant from last year.

The grant funds can be used to help homeless and at-risk veterans pay rent, utilities, security deposits and moving costs. They can help pay for agencies to provide outreach, counseling and help with getting public benefits or finding a job.

With an estimated 130,000 veterans, Southern Arizona has one of the largest veterans communities in the country, said Richard White, regional chief executive officer of the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross.

The program will directly help the estimated 3,500-5,500 homeless veterans in Southern Arizona, and others who are near-homeless and struggling, White said.

"If people didn't receive the help they needed when they came back from service, it's possible that's affected their whole lives," said Jennifer Tersigni, chief development officer of the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross. "Anything we can do to help make life better for them is important."

Veterans Affairs awarded nearly $100 million in grants to 151 agencies across the country in this, the second year of the program. Last year, about $60 million was given out across the country. The grants can be renewed by agencies for up to five years, pending congressional funding for the programs.

The Red Cross will spend the next several months preparing to launch the program, probably sometime in the fall, Tersigni said.

That includes recruiting and hiring 10 to 12 people to help run the program. Once they are ready, the agency will screen interested veterans to let them know if they are eligible under the income guidelines and inform them on how they can become participants in the program, Tersigni said.

The chapter serves five counties: Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, Graham and Greenlee.

The Red Cross estimates it will be able to provide monetary assistance to about 400 veterans, and case management and counseling to about 800 veterans. Through an array of outreach programs, the agency expects to help about 4,000 veterans, Tersigni said.

The monetary assistance will be key, but the other facets may be just as important, she said.

"Sometimes the best support we can provide is not financial, it is assistance with job searches or some level of clinical counseling or support for a family that is dealing with a particularly difficult situation," Tersigni said.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com