The Department of Veterans Affairs is almost halfway through its national push to end homelessness by 2015.
And even though the agency says it’s making progress, there are still more than 67,000 homeless veterans in America.
That has the VA reaching out more and more to community partners as key allies in its battle to end veterans homelessness.
In this first installment of a two-part series on veterans' homelessness, Tim Lloyd reports on how the national initiative is strengthening local partnerships in St. Louis.
Having a stake in life again
Scott Egan is sitting on a concrete stoop watching cars zip down Washington Avenue.
The Vietnam veteran with a full white beard pauses, then recalls his time in combat.
“I can pretty much see the face of everyone I killed," Egan says. "I don’t have a soldier’s rationalization that I fired my weapon and I don’t know if he died or not. All I knew is that when I got back I didn’t want to do that for a living anymore.”
After three tours of duty as an army sniper he retrained to be a medic and ended up staying in the military for 34 years, deploying to combat zone after combat zone.
Somewhere in all that violence he developed post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
He started drinking too much, ignored his health, lost his job, sold his home.
Today he says his life is back on track thanks to housing provided by the Salvation Army and psychological treatment through the VA.
“We work and we save our money so that when we walk out of here we have a stake in life again,” Egan says.
LISTEN: Scott Egan, who is currently staying at the Salvation Army's Harbor Light center on Washington Ave., talks about the various social services where he's received the treatment that he says helped him get his life back on track.
What’s working for Egan, a mix of services from a community provider like the Salvation Army and the VA, is a key part of the local plan to end veterans homelessness.
And construction is underway on an effort to expand this type of collaboration.
Expanding collaboration through construction
When completed this modern looking building in Midtown Alley will be the Salvation Army’s new 48-room housing center for homeless veterans.
The project is setup to work in close partnership with the VA and residents will have access to services ranging from addiction treatment to job training.
Salvation Army Captain Adam Moore, a big easy going kind of guy, stands at the edge of the construction site.
“The only analogy that I really have for it is the Salvation Army, and the VA and other groups have been dating for lots of years," Moore says. "But we’re married now, and we’re in it for the long haul.”
LISTEN: In addition to collaborating with the VA, Salvation Army Captain Adam Moore talks about how a partnership with the US Department of Defense is structured to help soldiers transition back into their lives at home.
Casting a wide net for veterans and solving complex problems
The accelerated push by the VA to have closer ties with community organizations started in late 2009.
That’s when Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said this at the VA’s Summit on Homeless Veterans: “My name is Shinseki and I am here to end veterans homelessness.”
Iraq war veteran Dwain Sliger was at the summit back in 2009 and says it gave him chills when the whole room "stood up and applauded. It was tremendous..."
Today he administers Project HERO, a housing program for homeless veterans operated by the St. Patrick Center, a local Catholic charity.
Launched in 2008, the project partners with the VA to help move homeless veterans into permanent housing.
Last year the St. Patrick Center received nearly $1 million from the VA to fuel three separate programs aimed at homeless veterans.
Sliger can rattle off success stories now, but says collaborating with a federal agency wasn’t always easy.
“I don’t know how many hours we sat trying to figure out how this guideline that we have from a federal level can be incorporated at the local level to make it a win-win for everybody,” Sliger says.
LISTEN: Dwain Sliger says Project HERO, which is based in a trendy part of Washington Ave. in St. Louis is breaking down stereotypes about homeless veterans.
The end game for everyone, he says, is to create as wide of a net as possible to catch veterans before they hit the streets.
And when they do, the problems can be too complex for a single agency to handle on its own.
Joanne Joseph coordinates the VA’s homeless program in St. Louis.
She says expanded partnerships are helping them move out of a one-size-fits-all mentality.
“Locally, we’re going to individualize those services, so, on a community level then down to the individual veteran, 'what does that individual need to get to the place they want to be?'” Joseph says.
But there could be big challenges on the horizon as veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan continue to struggle in a tough economy.
That has Missouri and Illinois mustering resources to help veterans find jobs.
In Missouri more than 1,800 employers have signed a pledge to interview and recruit veterans.
And in Illinois veterans can get individualized employment help from a source they’re likely to trust, another veteran.
Check back here at stlpublicradio.org and on-air tomorrow for the second part of this series on the VA’s race to keep up with the growing number of homeless women veterans.
Links to services for homeless veterans:
- United Way's 2-1-1 help line
- St. Louis VA Health Care System
- VA Homeless Services-National
- Missouri Department of Mental Health
- Missouri Department of Economic Development
- Veterans Assistance Commission
- St. Louis Veterans Court
- St. Louis County Department of Human Services
- St. Louis City Department of Human Services
- Catholic Charities, Veterans Advocacy Project
- The Joseph Center -Transitional housing
- The Salvation Army -Transitional housing and addiction services
- St. Patrick’s Center -Employment, housing and outreach
- St. Vincent DePaul -Transitional Housing
- Chestnut Health Systems -Transitional Housing
- United States Veterans Initiative-Transitional Housing Services
- Employment Connection
- Missouri Career Center
- WorkSmart Missouri
- Illinois Department of Employment Security
- SLATE - St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment
- Missouri Career Center
- The Bridge/Centenary Church-Outreach
- Missouri Veterans Commission
- Mission Continues
- St. Louis Area Foodbank