Joel Beach had been living in his car for two months when he met Shawn Dowling, his local VA Health Care for Homeless Veterans program coordinator. Dowling introduced Beach to Ken Leslie, founder of the VA partner organization Veterans Matter, and within a week, Beach had an apartment.
“This place is awesome,” Beach said of his new apartment. “It feels good to do laundry and take showers — the basics — again.”
For Beach and other formerly homeless Veterans, housing is more than a roof over their heads — it is one major step toward a better life. Veterans can and do become homeless for many different reasons, such as a move to an area with more expensive housing, service-related trauma that leads to issues like substance use, or the loss of a job. Through VA and its range of community partners, homeless Veterans are housed and then given access to the specific resources they need to stay housed so that they can achieve their full potential.
The video below highlights just a few of the dedicated partners that VA has worked with through the years.
“Find out first what the Veterans really need,” said Veterans Matter’s Ken Leslie, “then fill that need — and then you’ll have a perfect formula to be able to serve the people we’re trying to serve.”
When Leslie discovered in 2012 that Veterans in his area were having trouble getting into permanent housing because they could not afford the rental deposits, he knew he had to help. In just 11 days, Leslie turned that idea into a nonprofit called Veterans Matter, raised over $26,000, and helped 35 homeless Veterans move into VA supportive housing. Fast forward to today and Veterans Matter has housed over 1,500 Veterans in 14 states.
But the need for support does not stop once a formerly homeless Veteran has a place to stay. Many Veterans exiting homelessness do not have the means to purchase basic necessities or furniture for their new homes when they move in. Recognizing this need, the faith-based nonprofit Military Outreach USA decided to partner with the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center to provide Veterans in the surrounding area of Chicago with these everyday items.
“An apartment isn’t a home until they have some items to make it comfortable,” said Laurie Boskovitch, a VA HUD-VASH case manager who works with Military Outreach USA. Because of Military Outreach USA’s partnership with VA, Trevor Hathcock, a formerly homeless Veteran, now has towels, cleaning supplies, and other necessities for his apartment.
“Having your own place and being on your own again makes you feel worthwhile. Like I used to feel, you know,” said Hathcock.
Once Veterans are comfortably housed, it’s time for other community partners and VA programs and services to help them get back on their feet so that they don’t slip into homelessness again. Organizations like Salute Mission Critical offer Veterans job training as well as assistance finding and keeping a job. Lee Kirby and Jason Okroy founded Salute Mission Critical to get Veterans connected to jobs in the data center industry — where Veterans’ unique skills are particularly relevant — and since then, they have helped more than 500 Veterans enter the field.
“Our partnership with the VA homeless program has been phenomenal,” said Sonda Kolodzinski, director of operations for Salute Mission Critical. “Working with [our VA Community Employment Coordinator], we’ve been able to fill roles for our clients with individuals who blossom.”
With help from these partners and many more at the federal, state, and community levels, VA’s efforts to end Veteran homelessness have resulted in a nearly 50 percent reduction in the number of homeless Veterans between 2010 and 2016. In 2015 alone, the number decreased by 17 percent.
“For any organization that’s focused on helping homeless Veterans, only by coming together in partnership with the VA and all of the other community collaborators can we really solve this problem nationwide,” Ken Leslie said. “As regular Americans, we’re able to rally with the VA to help people who’ve risked all, for all of us.”
If you are interested in partnering with VA to become part of the solution, get more information and resources here.
Jesse K. Vazzano, LICSW, serves as the national director of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) for the Veterans Health Administration. HUD-VASH provides Housing Choice Vouchers, from HUD, and wrap-around case management and supportive services, from VA, to homeless Veterans and their families, with emphasis on the chronically homeless.
Eileen Devine is a licensed clinical social worker and the national director for Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV). The HCHV program’s core mission is outreach and engagement to homeless Veterans. This is accomplished through HCHV’s Community Resource and Referral Centers (CRRCs), HCHV outreach workers, the HCHV Contract Residential Services Programs, as well as Low-Demand Safe Haven Programs and homeless Stand Downs.