Three months ago the Veteran's Administration awarded a $1 million grant for its Every Veteran Home Program to an Alameda County Coalition for Veteran Families, comprised of four local organizations.
The grant was one of 85 awards totaling $60 million made by the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program to nonprofits nationwide.
This month the Veteran's Program Case Manager, that will help administer the new program locally, Patricia Quiroz, started work here in San Leandro. She is an employee of Building Futures with Women and Children. Her office is located at the .
"Ours is one of the first programs in the nation attempting to prevent and address homelessness not just among veterans but also their families," Quiroz said.
Number of Homeless Veterans Remains Too High
There are an estimated 500 homeless veterans in Alameda County. Although Quiroz said she does not yet have estimates for how many of those live in individual cities within the county, she anticipates she will eventually be assembling that information.
Quiroz said the program is part of a broader campaign initiated a couple years ago by the Veteran's Administration to end homelessness among veterans in five years.
"Some excellent progress has been made in reducing homelessness among veterans," said Quiroz, "Nationwide the number of homeless vets declined from 313,000 to 107,000 between 2003 and 2009." Still that is not enough.
While there is no true current measure of the number of homeless veterans, the website reports, it has been estimated that some fewer than 200,000 veterans may be homeless on any given night and that twice as many veterans experience homelessness during a year.
Many other veterans are considered at risk of homelessness because of poverty, lack of support from family and friends and precarious living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
The site reports ninety-seven percent of homeless veterans are male and the vast majority are single. About half of all homeless veterans suffer from mental illness and more than two-thirds have alcohol or drug abuse problems. Nearly 40 percent posess both psychiatric and substance abuse disorders.
Veterans Administration partners with local nonprofits to help
Quiroz said the Veteran's Administration decided to ramp up its efforts to tackle the continuing problem by partnering more closely with local agencies to get the job done
Locally, the recipients sharing the one-year $1 million grant include Building Futures with Women and Children of San Leandro, of Fremont, Operation Dignity of Oakland and LifeLong Medical Care of Berkeley.
Together, the coalition partners will use their resources to provide local veterans and their families with housing and a variety of services including rent and deposit assistance, case management and health care.
"What this grant will do is give us the ability to help prevent veterans and their families from becoming homeless in the first place and help them transition back into a home, in the event they become so" Quiroz said.
Local case manager is experienced in helping veterans
Quiroz said she is excited to be part of this on-the-ground effort to help veterans in their own communities. In May she completed her master's degree in social work at Sacramento State University. As part of her graduate program she interned with the Department of Veteran's Affairs working with homeless veterans and wrote her master's thesis on the causes of homelessness among them.
"I first became interested in the challenges faced by homeless veterans," she said, "when I attended a Stand Down in Sacramento"
Stand Downs are one part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to provide services to homeless veterans. The first Stand Down was organized in 1988 by a group of Vietnam Veterans in San Diego. They are typically one to three day events providing services to homeless Veterans such as food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment.
It was at that event, Quiroz said, she realized the scope of the problem. She said she was shocked by the number of veterans who were homeless.
Veterans become homeless like others, but with added challenges
Quiroz said she believes many of the same problems that lead to homelessness in the general population also are the cause of homelessness among veterans. Veterans, she said, just have additional layers of problems piled onto those experienced by others.
"The present day economy and lack of resources certainly plays a role in homelessness," she said, "and even when resources are available to help vets sometimes they do not know how to access them."
Alcohol and drug addiction, mental health related issues, service connected disabilities and post traumatic stress disorder can all intersect and contribute to homelessness among veterans, she explained.
How veterans and their families can get help
Local veterans and their families needing assistance should call Operation Dignity, which is acting as the clearinghouse for the East Bay coalition, at 510-350-3682. The Department of Veterans Affairs also has a hotline for homeless vets. Information about that and other broader issues involving homeless veterans can be found here.