By LESLIE COLLINS
December 5, 2012
Due to a number of circumstances, U.S. veterans aren’t immune to homelessness.
It’s estimated that at least 10 percent of the homeless population in Missouri is comprised of veterans.
According to the State of Homelessness in Missouri: 2011 Report, which was submitted to the Missouri Housing Development Commission, “preliminary data indicate that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are becoming homeless at a faster rate attributed to a shortage of affordable housing, mental health and substance abuse problems. Approximately 45 percent of the homeless veterans have a mental illness and over 50 percent have substance abuse problems.”
One organization, The Salvation Army, is trying to combat homelessness among veterans.
Recently, The Salvation Army’s Kansas and Western Missouri Divisions received two Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grants from the Department of Veteran Affairs to reduce homelessness among veterans and their families located in Kansas and in northwestern Missouri. The Kansas grant is $660,000 and the Missouri grant totals $502,000. This is the second year The Salvation Army received the grant for Kansas and the first year for Missouri.
“The first year of the SSVF grant in Kansas was a huge success,” said Debra Fester, veterans and recovery services coordinator for The Salvation Army’s Kansas and Western Missouri Divisions. “Eighty-five percent of those served were at or below 30 percent of the area median income and over 94 percent of those assisted were placed in stable, permanent housing.”
Causes of homelessness among veterans include poverty, unexpected medical bills, substance abuse, mental health issues, post traumatic stress disorder, tension among family members, unemployment and other factors.
“A lot of veterans don’t always take a traditional education path in terms of a degree program,” Fester said. “I don’t think the workforce understands when they come back from service the kinds of transferrable skills they have. It’s different than what they’re (employers) accustomed to.”
In addition, a number of veterans enter the military at a young age and lack basic life skills.
“They may be able to do extraordinary things, but they may not be able to balance a budget,” Fester said.
Facets of the SSVF grant include helping low income veterans and their families obtain and maintain affordable housing and providing supportive services like case management, housing counseling, connecting veterans to VA and mainstream services, life skills training, budgeting, peer mentoring, job preparation and more.
To qualify for assistance, individuals or their spouses must have served in active military and be discharged or released under honorable circumstances. They must be below 50 percent of the area median income and are at risk of becoming homeless within 14 days or are currently homeless. For Jackson County, 50 percent of the area median income for a family of four is $36,650 annually, Fester said.
Overall, homelessness is growing in the state of Missouri. According to the December 2011 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness report, Missouri was among the states with the highest increase in homelessness. Since 2007, homelessness in Missouri has increased by 43.9 percent. When The Salvation Army submitted its grant application in February of 2011, 358 veterans reported they were homeless in Kansas City, Fester said.
“Some people are just couch surfing all over the place,” Fester said. “When you’ve got kids, that’s particularly difficult. It can help for a short period of time, but it’s not a long-term solution. But, what we’re finding is that people are doing it over a period of time because of lack of resources to get on their feet…
“It’s really surprising the number of veterans who come out of service who don’t know about the benefits that are available to them, so a lot of time is spent on ensuring that they get signed up for the kind of benefits they’re entitled to.”
To help veterans find stable and affordable housing, The Salvation Army assists veterans on an individual basis, evaluating their housing needs and finances. In addition, through the SSVF program, The Salvation Army provides short-term financial assistance, which can include up to five months’ rent, assistance with past due rent, utility deposits, moving costs, among other items, said Rachel Geary, The Salvation Army SSVF Northeast Missouri program manager. The Salvation Army can help pay for storage costs, so families don’t have to part with their belongings while they’re searching for housing, Geary said.
Another key piece of the grant includes employing veterans to advise the case management team and program management team on the needs of veterans and veteran resources, Geary said.
“We’re hoping it’s (SSVF program) not just making a difference for the short-term, but that they’re going to be better off in the long run,” Fester said.
Do you qualify for assistance?
To find out, call (816) 756-2769. Missouri residents should ask for Rachel Geary, and Kansas residents should ask for Sophia Stachofsky.