|Volume 13, Issue 2, 2013||Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas|
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Program Provides Services-Enriched Housing for Homeless Veterans in Northwest Louisiana
In the northern Louisiana portion of the Eleventh District, an innovative housing program is addressing the needs of homeless veterans. The program is the latest initiative of Volunteers of America of North Louisiana (VOANL), which was established over 75 years ago. As community needs have changed, this faith-based organization has added a range of services: group homes for people with disabilities, after-school programs for inner-city youth and adult day health care for the elderly. In 2010, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in Shreveport suggested the VOANL add transitional housing for homeless veterans to its services. VA officials had noticed an increasing number of homeless veterans in the area, which is home to a large regional VA hospital.
Nationally, Volunteers of America (VOA) is the largest provider of transitional housing for homeless veterans. The VOANL office applied for VA funds to support a new 56-bed transitional living facility for single men, receiving grants from the VA and raising funds from additional sources, including numerous private donations. Since then, VOA has added the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which provides housing and other assistance to veterans and their families who are homeless or in danger of homelessness.
Most recently, the VOANL partnered with the Fuller Center for Housing to build four new single-family homes for veterans who have graduated from the VOANL’s transitional housing program.
Hidden Injuries of War
The needs of homeless veterans are numerous, with health issues topping the list. Today’s veterans are more likely to survive injuries than in prior wars and more likely to deploy on repeat tours of duty. Of military serving in Iraq or Afghanistan using VA health care during the 10-year period ending December 2012, 29 percent were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Volunteers of America and other national organizations addressing veterans’ needs, including the Bob Woodruff Foundation, refer to mental health injuries as the “hidden injuries of war.” Many times, symptoms of these injuries do not show up until after the veteran has been home for six months or more. By that time, social supports from family and friends may have leveled off. Symptoms begin and the veteran may be reluctant to seek help. Relationships with family and friends deteriorate. Ability to perform on the job is affected. The veteran may start self-medicating, turning to alcohol and drugs. Substance abuse only increases problems with the individual’s job performance and relationships. Too many veterans lose everything in the process: their family, job and home. Most tragically, the VA estimates that a veteran dies from suicide every 65 minutes.
VOANL employs a staff person for street outreach. Recruiting a homeless veteran takes time to build trust. Once the relationship is established, the outreach coordinator hopes to convince the veteran to enter a rehabilitation program for drugs and/or alcohol abuse. Gary Jaynes, director of veteran services at VOANL, says the physical health of most veterans living on the street is dire. “If they don’t get off the streets pretty soon, they’re going to die there.”
A Tour and a Talk
In addition to having an honorable discharge from the military, veterans in the VOANL program are required to have 30 days of documented sobriety before entering as a resident. Many have recently completed a rehabilitation program for drugs or alcohol. Upon acceptance, the new resident is given a “tour and a talk.” Case managers emphasize that the program is not a shelter. It is a structured program with requirements for alcohol and drug testing, employment, automatic savings deposits, etc. The case manager develops a plan with the veteran to move through all the obstacles toward the ultimate goal of achieving permanent housing.
Addressing Health Needs
The veteran resident’s plan for success in the transitional housing program requires that he receive comprehensive health care, including good nutrition, medications and testing for chronic illness and, in most cases, psychiatric therapy. Group counseling sessions are provided on site, as are Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The transitional housing properties provide three meals a day, seven days a week. Medications and doctor visits are arranged through the nearby VA medical center.
Working and Saving
All physically able veterans in the VOANL transitional housing program are required to work, attend classes or volunteer every weekday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. As a beginning step to employment, the VA offers Compensated Work Therapy, a vocational rehabilitation program providing a small income. The work therapy program includes case management with the goal of the veteran obtaining employment outside the VA.
Case managers help residents set up a monthly budget. The VOANL program requires that 30 percent of the resident’s monthly income go to rent and 30 percent go to a managed savings program held by the VOA national office. When the resident reaches his goal of stable employment at a living wage and overcomes other barriers faced initially, he is able to access his savings for an apartment deposit and first and last month’s rent.
The VOANL chapter in northern Louisiana is still trying to formalize its money management program. As Jaynes put it, “We’re social workers, not bankers, so we really need the expertise of local professionals.”
Partners include local banks and credit unions. In addition, financial education and first-time-homebuyer education are provided by the Church for the Highlands and the United Way. Recently, the Bank On Shreveport initiative was formed, involving the city of Shreveport as well as banks, credit unions and nonprofit service providers collaborating to provide low-cost banking products to unbanked consumers. VOANL case managers are looking forward to the information and classes provided through this collaboration.
For fiscal year 2012, the VOANL served 158 veterans in its transitional housing program. Of these, 44 residents completed their program successfully and moved to independent living. Staff members at VOANL are experts on the complex needs of homeless veterans. However, their approach to addressing these needs is simple. According to Regional Vice President Brian Byrd, “You identify the needs and you fix those. They served us; now we’ve got to serve them.”
e-Perspectives, Volume 13, Issue 2, 2013