By SARAH BRADBURY
Some may have noticed the billboards in town with the number 1-877-4AID-VET posted. This number is a hotline for homeless veterans. Homeless and at-risk veterans are in our area, and they are not receiving as much assistance as one may think. According to a count on a January night in 2012, there are 62,619 veterans in the U.S. who are homeless.
According to the VA website, there are many reasons veterans can become homeless, including poverty, lack of support from family or friends, substance use, or mental health challenges that may develop or worsen as a result of trauma experienced while serving.
In 2009, President Barack Obama and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Since 2009, the number of veterans who are homeless has dropped by 17.2 percent.
The VA has increased programs and funding to help veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, and plans to dedicate $1.4 billion to specialized homeless programs and $4.4 billion to health care for homeless veterans.
The VA offers many services to homeless veterans. In 2012, it served more than 240,000 veterans nationwide who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless – 21 percent more than the year before. The VA offers the Homeless Veteran Supported Employment Program, giving vocational assistance, job development and placement, and ongoing support to improve chances of employment among homeless veterans and those at risk of becoming homeless.
Project CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups) brings together providers, advocates, and other concerned citizens, identifying the needs of homeless veterans and working to meet those needs through planning and cooperative action. According to the VA website, this has helped build many relationships between the VA and community agencies in order to work together and better serve homeless veterans.
The Supportive Services for Veteran Families program provides grants and technical assistance to community-based, nonprofit organizations to help veterans and their families stay in their homes.
The Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem program provides grants and per diem payments, when funding is available, to help public and nonprofit organizations establish and operate supportive housing and service centers for homeless veterans.
The Health Care for Re-Entry Veterans Program helps imprisoned veterans successfully acclimate themselves back into their community through supports, including those addressing mental health and substance use problems.
While there is no doubt the VA is doing their part to combat veteran homelessness on a national level, local issues with veteran homelessness exist. Leanna Craig, program coordinator of the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program (VWWP), says there are homeless veterans in our area, but most of the veterans the organization deals with are at risk of becoming homeless.
Craig says veterans really only qualify as homeless if they are living on the street. Therefore, those staying with family or with access to some sort of shelter do not qualify for help. This is where VWWP comes in – to deal with at-risk veterans who are falling through the cracks.
VWWP anticipates the numbers of homeless veterans and their families and those at risk may increase as service members return and re-enter Virginia’s communities and seek employment in an economic climate still struggling.
The 2012 Point-in-Time survey of homeless veterans in Virginia showed a slight decrease in the number of homeless veterans, from 931 in 2011 to 881 in 2012.
VWWP was able to help 157 veterans and family members across the Commonwealth find housing and supportive services in 2012, despite the lack of dedicated staff to address homeless issues.
Finding exact figures for homeless veterans in our area has proven difficult, but some are known to live in town. Rebecca Hamilton of Norman’s House says they have served and assisted homeless veterans in the temporarily closed facility. Any information that surfaces after the publication of this article will be shared over the coming weeks.
For more information on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs programs for homeless veterans, call 1-877-4AID-VET or visit va.gov/homeless/nationalcallcenter.asp. For more information on the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, call 1-877-285-1299 or visit woundedwarriorproject.org.