January 5, 2010

Serving those who've served their country

Congress recently passed legislation to provide case management and housing assistance for thousands of military veterans who now struggle with homelessness. This provides a much-needed swell of resources for DC's large population of vulnerable veterans — a group that we've been seeing substantially more of, especially at Bread for the City’s Southeast Center.

In response to the rise in both need and resources, Bread for the City has recently forged a partnership with the Homeless Veteran Program within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“It can be so challenging to return from military service,” explains Sherita Evans, Bread for the City’s intake coordinator and all-around superstar. “Our veterans struggle with debilitating injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and difficulty finding employment.”

Sherita has taken the lead in our collaboration with the VA, helping them adapt their case management procedures to best connect clients with resources in the community, especially when it comes to affordable housing.

“The VA Subsidized Housing Program (VASH) is like Section 8, specifically for veterans,” she explains. “But even with a voucher, it’s still a challenge to find suitable housing.”

“For instance, take the application fees: they’re $25 to $50, each time you apply for an apartment. For people with a steady job and income, that’s not a big deal. But if you’re homeless and applying to four apartments each week—how are you going to get that money?”

This problem was preventing many of the VA’s clients from successfully placing themselves in housing. Sherita helped the VA find a new approach.

“I told them to make it work!” says Sherita. She helped case managers at the VA draft a waiver form that enables veterans to bypass many application fees. “You have to go beat the streets. When your client needs to find housing, go with them—as a social worker with the VA, you can throw some weight around and get application fees waived. That might be non- traditional, but housing is hard; you gotta do what it takes.”

Even then, finding a suitable array of options can be difficult. “Southeast is different from the rest of DC. A lot of places advertise in the window, not in the classifieds or on Craigslist,” Sherita explains. “You gotta get out of the newspaper and up from the desk.”

And once housing is secured, veterans can then turn to Bread for the City for even more assistance. “The VASH program doesn’t include food stamps or social services benefits,” Sherita explains. “So we’re able to get them into a networked array of resources—including food support and legal assistance." This is especially important for veterans with families: “vets can go to the VA hospital, but their spouse and children may not be able to. That’s where we come in—we can address the entire family unit. We can connect the wife and children with the resources they need.”

“The demographics of soldiers are changing,” continues Sherita, explaining that we’re seeing more young veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other instances, active enlisted men leave behind families who need help: “If my husband is in Iraq, he’s being compensated—so I may not be eligible for food stamps. But I still need help!”

“Sherita is incredibly responsive and always willing to come out here to offer assistance—that’s rare in today’s age,” commends Steve Mason of the VASH program. “All of our clients thank us for connecting them with Bread for the City.”

“Sherita assisted me in getting into the place where I’m established now. When I ended up on the streets of DC, a case manager with the homeless division suggested that I could get specific help at Bread for the City. I was tired of jumping in and out of shelters. Sherita directed me to the Vet Center at Chesapeake House. And even though I didn’t meet all the criteria—I didn’t have 60 days clean—I was able to talk to the people and they were ready to give me a stable, sober environment. Today I have six months clean time and my own home. “ — Mr. Klink, a veteran of Vietnam who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Mr. Klink received a housing voucher but was still without shelter.

1 comment:

Steve said...

This is a great story. Thanks!