Region has ‘effectively’ ended homelessness among veterans

Homelessness among veterans has “effectively” ended in the region, the result of more than a decade of work focused on reducing and eliminating the problem, federal and local authorities declared last week.

Exact numbers of homeless veterans were not available for Butler County, but those who work in shelters and with homeless people are attesting to the fact the processes directed by the Veterans Administration for getting veterans housed seem to be working.

Linda Kimble, who runs the Serve City Shelter in Hamilton, said while there were three veterans in the shelter last week, the numbers have been shrinking.

“I do honestly think that it has had some impact,” she said. “We have successfully placed veterans more quickly than somebody who is not a veteran.”

Finding homes for Butler County veterans would be much easier she said, if the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could be used to pay for housing with the Butler Metropolitan Housing Authority. As it stands now Kimble said veterans who want to use the VASH vouchers have to go down to Hamilton County to live.

“There are resources available but part of the issue in Butler County is if you want to access your resources you need to go to Hamilton County to Cincinnati, particularly the housing resources,” Kimble said. “We do not use HUD-VASH vouchers in Butler County… There are a lot of people in Butler County who do not want to relocate to Hamilton County. If you are from Hamilton, Ohio moving down into Cincinnati, it is sometimes daunting.”

Housing Authority Executive Director Phyllis Hitte said the VASH vouchers, which include housing and VA services for veterans, are distributed to housing authorities by invitation only and about seven or eight years ago Butler County was invited. But since all of the available services associated with the vouchers were located in Cincinnati, a decision was made — in conjunction with the local vet board — to decline the offer.

“The services were not here in Butler County, the transportation was an issue and there were not services, so many of those vouchers went to the Cincinnati Housing Authority…,” she said. “We have several facilities now in Butler County that were not available at that time for veterans.”

She said if she received an invitation today she would jump at the chance to work with the vet board to get the vouchers.

Chris Terry, an Army vet who stayed at Serve City a couple of times before Kimble hired him and helped him get back on his feet and get VA benefits. But he also said people need to understand not all veterans want outside help.

“Sometimes veterans are stubborn and don’t want any help,” he said. “Some vets throughout their life have been told what to do, when to eat and when to sleep, and when they get out there’s about 10 or 15 years before something really tragic happens to them, they go to the VA and there’s like strangers, it’s not a veteran that gets out after serving about 10 years, he’s been out for 20 years it’s not like there is a camaraderie between him and the new people he’s seeing at the VA.”

At the last annual tally in January there were 90 homeless residents in Butler County according to Diane Ruther-Vierling, chair of the Butler County Housing and Homeless Coalition said they have not queried people about whether they are veterans but they will in January.

The city of Dayton is the first community in Ohio to reach the homeless vet milestone, based on federal criteria, and one of nearly 30 in the nation, authorities said.

“We’re embracing compelling evidence showing that the most effective way to combat homelessness is to offer a housing model first,” said Antonio R. Riley, HUD regional administrator in Chicago. “We are finding here today that … veteran homelessness is not some intractable problem that we simply cannot address over time.”

The declaration does not mean homelessness is non-existent among veterans in Montgomery County, but that the community has an effective way to identify and house homeless veterans rapidly, said Charles Meadows, co-chairman of the Homeless Solutions Policy Board.

“You have to be prepared to continue to serve to meet the needs not only of the veterans but other people who become homeless,” he said.

In 2014, the Dayton VA joined with the Dayton-Kettering-Montgomery County Continuum of Care to push to eliminate veteran homelessness. Last year, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley joined a nationwide “mayors challenge” to tackle the issue.

“Really, it’s an idea and a belief in our community that no one in our community should go homeless,” Whaley said at a press conference Monday at the Dayton VA Medical Center. She was joined by VA, Montgomery County and HUD leaders.

“If we don’t each make this a priority for our organization, it doesn’t happen,” she said.

Finding the homeless

Veteran unemployment rates overall track below the national and Ohio average of 4.9 percent in October 2016. For all veterans, the national unemployment rate was 4.3 percent last month.

In Ohio, the most recent statistics for 2015 show a 3.3 percent unemployment rate for veterans. However, post-9/11 veterans recorded a higher rate their their civilian counterparts at 5.3 percent last year in Ohio and 5.8 percent nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many veterans have used HUD vouchers to find a place to live. The vouchers have paid housing costs for about 350 veterans in the Dayton area since 2008, authorities said.

“We hope (communities) will continue this because it will be something that will continue to be an urgent need,” Randy Brown, a spokesman at the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “It’s not a stopping point.”

The VA had set a goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The goal was not met, although federal agencies reported homelessness among veterans has declined 47 percent since 2010, and 17 percent between last year and this year.

The “point-in-time” survey in January 2016 showed nearly 40,000 veterans — or 9 percent of the homeless in the United States — did not have a place to stay.

Place to call home

A bout with drinking left Clarence T. Jennings without a job and homeless for several years, the Army veteran said.

Jennings, 60, of Harrison Twp., entered a substance abuse treatment program at the Dayton VA and found a place to live. He now works at the Dayton VA, helping homeless veterans get their lives back on the right path.

“Once I got a grip on that and realized if I wanted my life to change, I had to change,” he said.

Army veteran J. Rothweiler, 39, of Dayton, said he faced homelessness and time in jail because of an assault case before he called a VA help line.

“My life was pretty chaotic with stuff,” he said. “I didn’t have anywhere to go. I didn’t have any kind of hope. I didn’t even know this place was here 16 months ago.”

After substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and finding a place to call home, he said he has made “a 180 degree turn” in his life. Today, he’s a caretaker at the Dayton National Cemetery.

In 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama urged communities to act on ending homelessness among veterans, and 860 communities have taken up the challenge.

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