Homelessness An Ongoing Issue For Veterans
by: Troops to Trades
November 30, 2014
By Bruce Coulter
In any town, on any street, it’s not hard to find people down on their luck. I’ve never been homeless, but it wasn’t that long ago I was down to my last couple of bucks, literally.
The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says that on any given night, there are approximately 50,000 homeless veterans across the country.
Jason Palitsch, government and public affairs specialist for Veterans Inc. in Worcester, said there’s no such thing as a flawless count – and the numbers are notoriously difficult to track.
According to HUD, that figure doesn’t include the number of veterans that may have been homeless at any point during the past year.
Palitsch said there are about 2,100 homeless veterans in New England, which Veterans Inc. does its best to find and provide beds for 250 to 300 veterans.
Headquartered in Worcester on Grove Street, Veterans Inc. has seven housing programs in New England, including the Sheridan Street program for homeless female veterans and their children.
“We were the first agency in the nation to have a program like that,” said Palitsch.
The women’s program opened in 1994 at the Grove Street location before moving to Sheridan Street in the past five years, he said.
According to their website, women veterans are at risk of homelessness four times greater than their male counterparts.
The census fluctuates from week to week at the Worcester facilities, but the houses are generally full.
How veterans make their way to Grove Street varies. Palitsch said Veterans Inc. works with a number of partner agencies that may refer a veteran to them. More important, the organization serves veterans of all ages, whether they’re just returning from a combat theater or senior veterans who may have served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam.
Veterans Inc. is supported by a combination of programs, such as federal and state grants, as well as private funding.
One such grant was awarded by Supportive Services for Veterans Families, which Palitsch said allows Veterans Inc., via caseworkers, to reach out to veterans to prevent homelessness before it starts.
For example, he said, a veteran in an otherwise stable environment – home and employment – has difficulty getting to work because of car troubles, Veterans Inc. could step in by paying for repairs, ensuring the veteran stays employed.
Palitsch said homelessness among veterans is on the decline nationally, but the agency remains concerned about veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unemployment in the veteran community remains high.
Last year, veterans between the ages of 18-24 experienced a 21.4 percent unemployment rate; veterans between 24 and 35 had an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, said Palitsch.
Veterans Inc. does more than provide shelter for veterans.
“When a veteran participates in our programs, we offer a number of services, including mental health and substance abuse, as well as employment and training,” said Palitsch. “Our goal as an agency is to get veterans back into a sustainable living situation. We want to put the veteran back on a path to becoming part of the community.”
Veterans can work, go to school or take part in a training program. They must also complete chores and help out in the community.
Veterans Inc. has case managers and staff available to help, but Palitsch said veterans are
active participants in programs, helping themselves and each other.
Veterans don’t have to be unemployed to use some of the services offered. Vets can get help applying for education and medical benefits and compensation, as well.