Partnerships pay off in effort to end Veteran homelessness
“I raised my hand, and that changed my whole life.”
Randy served in the U.S. Marine Corps from March 1983 to August 1986. When he raised his hand to take an oath to protect and defend the United States, he never envisioned needing to raise his hand for help years later because he was homeless.
“I really think most of us are just one or two problems away from losing our housing,” said Jenny King, a social worker at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center near Chicago. “If you lose your job and you have health problems or you have health problems and you lose all of your family support you can lose your housing so quickly.”
That’s what happened to Randy. “I ended up having a triple bypass and they also found out I had frostbite on my feet. Two days out of surgery and the landlord called and said they weren’t going to be renting to us after the end of March,” he shared. “We were just living in this pretty much hell…just not a good situation.”
Point-In-Time volunteers search buildings around the Canadian Pacific railyard in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. (VA photo)
Randy got help when a coordinator from the homeless outreach program came to where he was staying and asked if there were any Veterans.
“I raised my hand, and that changed my whole life. They starting looking for us, for a place to live,” he recalled. “They just did a whole bunch of stuff that I couldn’t have done.”
“We help find homeless Veterans and Veterans with families and once we assess them, we work with them to go through the process to get a Section 8 voucher with a local housing authority,” explained Gregory Mavromatis, a VA social worker at Lovell Federal Health Care Center. “We help them find apartments, make sure that the apartment is going to be safe and appropriate for them. We also then do long-term case management.”
But VA can’t do the work alone. Helping homeless Veterans is a collaboration between federal, state and local agencies; employers; housing providers, faith-based and community nonprofits; and others to expand employment and affordable housing options for Veterans exiting homelessness.
“Our community partners are really, really important,” King explained, saying they rely on other organizations for “some of the more concrete needs for Veterans who are homeless.”
Organizations such as the Elks, who last fall announced a $4 million commitment over a 4-year period to help end Veteran homelessness.
“Our goal is to provide the tools and support necessary for homeless Veterans to transition successfully into healthier and more stable lives,” said Mary Morgan, director of the Elks National Veterans Service Commission. “Most Americans agree that Veteran homelessness should not exist, but few people know how they can help.”
As a part of this partnership, the Elks works with VA staff on pilot programs in the cities of Washington, Chicago – where Lovell is located – and New York City. In addition, the organization is calling on the group’s 800,000 members across the country to support efforts to support homeless Veterans in their communities. The Elks have a strong tradition of service to VA: approximately 1,300 Elks members volunteered more than 117,000 hours of service at VA facilities nationwide last year.
A VA social worker Patricia Black-Evers (left) talks with a homeless duo tucked away under Intersate-94 at 4th and Beecher St. in Milwaukee. With temperatures far below freezing, the encampment was surrounded by ice. A couch and sheet of plywood served as a windbreak from the chills of Lake Michigan. (VA photo)
“We’re so excited about partnering with the Elks on this important issue impacting far too many Veterans,” said VA Secretary Bob McDonald. “As we move closer to our goal of ending Veteran homelessness, partnerships like these will be critical to ensuring that all Veterans have access to safe and affordable housing.”
Front line VA employees can attest to the determination of Veterans to get out of homelessness and back into independent living with help from groups like the Elks. “I think that it’s very important for us to support people who willing to support our country,” Mavromatis explained. “It’s one of the things that makes America great.”
“Working with homeless Veterans is incredibly rewarding,” King added. “These people have served and it’s important for us to be able to give back.”
The work VA and its partners are doing to end Veteran homelessness embodies the mission of MyVA, launched last year to transform VA by putting Veterans in control of how, when and where they wish to be served, even if that means getting one Veteran at a time to raise their hand.
Marine Veteran Randy is an example of that success. After raising his hand to ask for help, he’s now living independently with his family.
“We have a one bedroom apartment and there’s a little playground so our granddaughter can come over and she can play on the playground. We can actually babysit her now. We couldn’t do that before,” Randy says with a smile.