Many efforts to stamp out veteran homelessness nationwide

12/27/2016

Many efforts to stamp out veteran homelessness nationwide

For years, there has been a commitment at nearly all levels of government to get homeless veterans off the streets and into stable housing situations. Through a number of different efforts, some cities - and even entire states - have successfully whittled the number of homeless former service members down to zero, and others continue to diligently work toward that goal in many areas across the country, often with the help of the private sector as well.

One place where a nonprofit is working in conjunction with local officials to eliminate the scourge of veteran homelessness is Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative helped close to 350 vets get some sort of housing last year alone, and is on track to hit that number again this year, according to a report from Wisconsin Public Radio. However, the organization says it is overwhelmed because there are just so many homeless vets in the area, and many of them just can't check all the boxes when it comes to government efforts to put them into housing.

Milwaukee is one of many cities across the country where homeless veterans are getting more help.Milwaukee is one of many cities across the country where homeless veterans are getting more help.

What can go wrong?
There may be many reasons why homeless vets may struggle to find government-provided assistance in dealing with their housing issues, the report said. For instance, those who lose jobs unexpectedly can quickly find themselves on the street again, and if they are victims of domestic violence that can raise a number of problems as well. There's also a general shortage of housing options for many of them because some landlords are wary of giving discounted rates to those who had previously been homeless, an unfortunate but all too common stigma. To that end, the city of Milwaukee recently donated $5,000 worth of mattresses and other bedding to the organization.

"So many veterans fall through the cracks. Not everybody has access to the same thing," Kirsten Sobieski, executive director of the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative, told the station. "So even though there are programs in place for veterans to receive vouchers for housing, a lot of them we're serving are not eligible for vouchers. So many of them are sleeping in cars. So many of them are staying out of the public places where people tend to see homeless individuals during the day and in the evening. There's a pride factor. A lot people that are homeless do not want people to know that."

Regions relying on federal dollars
Meanwhile, in Oregon, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that it would provide nearly $35 million in assistance to 130 Oregon-based efforts to reduce homelessness in general, according to the Bend Bulletin. Included in that money is about $27,000 earmarked for the Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, with the specific goal of helping disabled vets with a history of regularly becoming homeless into more stable and hopefully permanent housing situations. Likewise, another $14,000 will go toward helping veterans who have children.

The organizations in question will not receive this funding until July 1, 2017, and a large portion of the total $34.7 million will be directed to solving homelessness issues in Portland, specifically, the report said. The reason why that's the case is simple enough: Larger cities tend to likewise have larger homeless populations that need assistance.

"Unfortunately, many homeless vets say they don't want a hand out."

Florida's efforts paying off
Finally, a private effort in Florida is starting to pay dividends alongside government-run services, according to a report from Palm Beach television station WPTV. In Palm Beach and Indian River Counties alone, there are about 200 homeless veterans living on the streets, so the Stand Down House in Lake Worth is working with the West Palm Beach VA Hospital to address the issues those former service members face on an ongoing basis. Stand Down House relies heavily on private donations, while the VA hospital obviously receives its funding from the federal government.

One of the big issues relates to the pride factor mentioned above: Unfortunately, many homeless vets say they don't want a hand out and want to try to work through their issues on their own, the report said. However, those who rely on private and public assistance tend to get up on their feet a lot more quickly. Even that level of basic stability is a big help for many vets on their path to get off the streets.

"I never wanted to exploit the name veteran. So I was always scared to say, 'I need help, I'm a veteran.' That just doesn't sound right to me," Kandyss Touchstone, an Air Force veteran who now receives assistance from local providers, told the station. "I can plan ahead now instead of just for today and I know where I'm going now versus I didn't know where I was going before."

Any organizations trying to assist homeless veterans can provide a world of good for them. As a result, experts generally hope that more local, state, and federal efforts will come along in the near future to further those efforts.

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