Help homeless veterans over the holidays

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In 2008, the Milwaukee chapter of Veterans for Peace began a small, weekly outreach program to look for homeless veterans in Milwaukee and see if we could help. We never leave a man or woman behind in the field; and we never should at home.

By Bill Christofferson at UppityWisconsin

The good news — and the bad news — is that the program has grown by leaps and bounds. That’s bad news because there are far too many homeless vets on the streets, we’ve found — at least several hundred. It’s good news that people have been generous enough to allow us to respond to their needs.

Our Homeless Veterans Initiative has grown from a two-hour a week outreach program to one that operates a food pantry, feeds more than 100 veterans a week, and operates a house providing temporary shelter for five homeless vets.

Besides the food and housing programs, the initiative continues to search out vets on the streets, work with them to get the help and benefits they are entitled to, and link them to transportation, educational opportunities and jobs in some cases.

The program does it all on a shoestring, mostly funded by small donations from friends and from collections we do at community events around the city. This year, some small grants — from family foundations, the Forest County Potawatomi, Outpost Natural Foods, businesses and others — have supplemented those individual donations.

It was a $50,000 operation this year, with almost every dollar going directly to help veterans in need. Next year, at the rate the need is growing, we expect we will need $65,000 to continue.

I play a minor role in the initiative as a board member. But two Veterans for Peace members spent most of their waking moments working in the program. They do it because we don’t leave our wounded behind.

Please help if you can. It’s close to home, a program where we can see results every day, and where the need unfortunately continues to be great. Here are some links:

To donate online, go to the initiative’s website and see the right hand column [and use PayPal, if you like]. You can send a tax-deductible contribution to:
Veterans For Peace
Homeless Veterans Initiative
PO Box 80699
Milwaukee, WI 53208

You can hear a brief WUWM public radio interview with Dennis Johnson, the executive director, here.

We’ll be grateful for anything you can do to help as we brace for the coming year and the cold months ahead. Thanks.

Veterans For Peace, Chapter 102 Homeless Veteran Initiative FAQ

Our Mission: To help end homelessness among current and future Milwaukee area veterans by enabling them to secure their rights and benefits, and to obtain access to housing, education, counseling, health care and employment opportunities.

•1. How many homeless are there?
2. How many of those are veterans?
3. Doesn’t the Department of Veterans Affairs take care of Homeless Veterans?
4. About VFP’s Housing First program in Milwaukee
5. What services are missing in order to break the cycle of homelessness?
6. What are short, medium and long range needs?
7. What resources are available?
8. Who is involved now?

1. How many homeless are there?

The Urban Institute, in conjunction with the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients, in 1996, published their findings that each year 2.3 million to 3.5 million people experience homelessness in America.

2. How many of those are veterans?

In that survey it was found that 23% of all homeless persons and 33% of all homeless men are veterans. That would indicate there are between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans who are homeless at some time during the year. In 2006 the Department of Veterans Affairs report estimated 194,000 homeless veterans on any given night. 2007 report estimated 154,000.
1.8% of homeless veterans seen by VA in 2006 were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. So as the numbers for older veterans are starting to decrease, the numbers for younger veterans will begin to increase.

Milwaukee’s homeless population is estimated at 15.000 – 20,000 from numbers compiled by Healthcare for the Homeless. That would estimate out to between 3,000 – 4,000 homeless veterans.

In addition to that, it is estimated that there are over 6000 veterans living in the Milwaukee area that are either rent burdened (below poverty level and paying over 50% of that in rent) or “stacking” ( multiple non related individuals or multiple families living together in one apartment ). These are at risk veterans who can become homeless with the slightest change in circumstances.

3. Doesn’t the Department of Veterans Affairs take care of Homeless Veterans?

The VA reaches only an estimated 33% of those in need….leaving many thousand in the Milwaukee area in need of assistance from local agencies and organizations. Locating and connecting these veterans to services that they have earned from their service to this country can relieve local resources for nonveteran needs.

4. What services are currently available?

There are many Department of Veteran Affairs services and many agencies providing veteran help. The homeless veteran in a majority of cases is unaware of the services or cannot access the services for a variety of reasons.

5. What services are missing in order to break the cycle of homelessness?

Veterans first need safe and secure housing to stabilize and begin a process of reentry into society. The ability to navigate the sometimes confusing VA system and basic means of transportation to get back and forth from appointments and job searching is vital to personal independence. Livable wage jobs are of importance to the veterans not only in financially supporting themselves and their families but in the rebuilding of their self esteem. 

6. What are short, medium and long range needs?

Short: Immediate shelter, basic necessities, medical services.

Medium: Obtaining I.D., military records, birth certificates. Filing claims for pensions and disabilities. Begin the process of rebuilding personal identity and human relationship along with spiritual connection.

Long: Permanent housing and employment. Achieving the highest level of personal independence possible and becoming a valued member of the community.

7. What resources are available?

Veterans for Peace has officially begun our pilot program “Housing First” this November. We have opened two single family houses that are homes to eight veterans. Full Housing First article with photos

8. Who is involved now?

The numbers of homeless, incarcerated and at risk veterans is now set to rise do to the returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Add to that the extra trauma suffered by women in the military and the lack of employment do to the downturn in the economy and the need for a community based veterans service organization is apparent. It is critical that community groups such as ours reach out to provide the support, resources and opportunities to those in need.

We believe veteran helping veteran along with community involvement is the most effective way of breaking the cycle of homelessness.

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