Spring is upon us, and signs of hope are felt with every new flower blooming, with every bird chirping and with every ray of sun that is melting the snow away.
Spring can be a sign of new beginnings to many but for those who do not have shelter, spring is a sign of some relief as the harsh winter lets up and more tolerable temperatures begin. It is hard to imagine being homeless, let alone being homeless in below zero weather, but unfortunately that is the reality of far too many, especially Veterans.
“Researchers found that Veterans appear to have many of the same major risk factors for homelessness as other adults, with the strongest and most consistent ones being substance abuse, severe mental illness, and low income.” as reported on Veterans Affairs (VA) research website, “They identified risk factors unique to Veterans such as problematic military discharges, low military pay grade, and social isolation after their discharge from the military.”
At the White River Junction VA Healthcare System and in every VA across the nation there are Homeless Veteran Program Coordinators and social workers who have made it their mission to be a part of the solution for Veterans experiencing homelessness.
“We are the connection between the life they want to have and the life they currently are living.” states Jason Brill, LICSW and case manager for the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program at the White River Junction VA Healthcare System. “The community wants to help, and I am here to assist them in doing so.”
There are many programs and resources available for Veterans experiencing homelessness, and many of those services come from organizations that comprise the VT Veterans Committee on Homelessness (VVCH). Locally there are Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) which is a VA-grant funded program. These programs provide Rapid Rehousing for Veterans who are currently homeless, and they provide Homelessness Prevention for those who are at risk of homelessness. There are Grant & Per Diem (GPD) programs that provide Transitional Housing for homeless (or at risk) Veterans. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program which pairs a Section 8 voucher (either Tenant or Project Based) along with long-term, intensive case management services from a VA Social Worker. Many of these programs have VA social workers and/or providers come on-site regularly to ensure the whole Veteran is cared for.
“The word homeless was just a word which never entered my mind until 2021.” states Army Veteran Jim, currently in the GPD program with Veterans Inc. “Even now that word homeless is meaningless because it’s the underlying or unseen problems that needed to be addressed. Just to give food or shelter was not a cure. Vets Inc. offered the cure and worked with me to overcome every obstacle so I could get to where I am at today.”
“Our community partners like Veterans Inc. are essential in reducing Veteran homelessness.” states Brill. “Our homeless Veteran team at the VA assist at every step of the way including finding permanent housing placements with landlords across our catchment area.”
In January 2023, to mark Vermont’s Homelessness Awareness Day, the WRJ VA partnered with Veterans Inc. and The Veterans Place GPD’s to raise awareness on the issues facing Veterans experiencing homelessness. A collaborative “Paint and Fruit Punch” and “Pop Up Soup Kitchen” involved Veterans from each program contributing their voices, time and energy to help others gain an understanding of their struggles and their strengths.
Nationally, the total number of Veterans who experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2022 was 33,129 – a decrease of 11% over January 2020, the last year a full Point in Time (PIT, a federally mandated count of persons experiencing literal homelessness in a community on a single night) count was conducted. In total, the estimated number of Veterans experiencing homelessness in America has declined by 55.3% since 2010. VA efforts in finding permanent housing placements is a key component to this success.
“We have three rental properties and have been housing Veterans for 12 plus years.” states Doug and Duffy (Kathleen) Jacobs of Southern Vermont. “We find it very rewarding to assist Veterans in need of clean, safe, affordable housing. Partnering with this program enables both the Veteran and us as the Landlord to connect and assist in this way.”
To meet the Secretary of the VA’s 2023 goal to house 38,000 Veterans experiencing homelessness nationally, the WRJ VA homeless Veteran program and VVCH is always searching for landlords who are willing to work with Veterans in need of permanent housing and a second chance. As efforts to exceed the local goal of placing 88 Veterans experiencing homelessness into permanent housing by December 31, 2023 are underway, the collaboration with landlords is critical to effectively ending Veterans homelessness.
The case manager assisting each Veteran will continue to support the Veteran and landlord after placement to ensure there is a good fit. “We have found that the case workers not only assist with the initial placement of Veterans for housing, but they also continue to follow up with both the Landlord and the Veteran to ensure that any concerns are addressed once the Veteran has moved in.” the Jacobs explain.
Case managers with the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program and the partner agencies of the VVCH work tirelessly to connect with Veterans in need of permanent housing. This team is trained and well-versed in the available options for Veterans experiencing homelessness. The case managers get to know each Veteran and they follow up with them to ensure they are adjusting well with each placement. Staff will also ensure VA healthcare is attainable and utilized to give the Veteran their best foot forward.
“It was and is the best decision to reach out and ask for help.” states Vietnam Veteran James currently in the GPD program at Veterans Inc. “It surprised me how validating it was to talk to someone at the VA. They told me they would refer me to services and not let me be homeless. I want other Veterans to know you don’t have to be ashamed to ask for help.”
*If you are a landlord willing to work with the VA in assisting Veterans in finding affordable permanent housing please email email@example.com or call 802-280-6651. And if you are a Veteran in need of housing support, please call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-424-3838.
On May 17, 2023 the White River Junction VA Healthcare System is hosting the Annual event the VA2K Walk and Roll. This event is to raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness and to collect items donated to the Homeless Veteran program such as new clothing, sleeping bags, tents, or gift cards to large box stores. All items must be NEW, no used donations are allowed. Also note, that at this time we are unable to accept donations for food, water and hygiene products. The event will feature informative displays to help incorporate homelessness awareness throughout the event. Questions about the VA2K Walk and Roll can be directed to Alicia Groft at 802-295-9363 x6343 or Alicia.Groft@va.gov.