Our veterans shouldn’t be homeless

Moderated by Rick Badie

Imagine serving in the U.S. military only to return home and eventually find yourself homeless. It happens often, but a national movement to end homeless here and elsewhere is making progress. I write about an auxiliary program of American Legion Post 207 that offers safety nets to homeless female veterans, while the head of a coalition gives a snapshot of state initiatives to address the issue.

Giving homeless vets a hand

By Rick Badie

Chiffon Thomas and her children’s holiday season was as thankful and merry as it could be. Things didn’t look like it would be before Thanksgiving; the military veteran was living in a transitional shelter, her six-month stay almost over.

Her condition changed right around the holidays; she got a job as an LPN for an East Point nursing home. The income allowed her to take advantage of a move-in special at a Stone Mountain apartment. And it was around this time the auxiliary unit of American Legion Post 207 in Tucker learned of her struggle toward self-sufficiency. It stepped up.

“It was totally awesome, and their timing was perfect,” said Thomas, a Louisiana native who served in non-combat Army operations. “The day before Thanksgiving, they bought me beds, living room furniture and household goods. At Christmas, they were fantastic as well. The kids got bikes and other gifts.”

A national initiative is afoot in Atlanta and beyond to get our servicemen and women off the streets and into permanent housing. The Tucker auxiliary is one of several local organizations involved in the effort.

In 1987, Thomas was a high school junior when she joined the Army through its delayed entry program. She served in non-combat roles that included a stint in El Salvador. Two marriages and four kids followed, and the last relationship landed her in a domestic violence shelter in Houston. She moved to Chicago, where she worked as an LPN before last year’s move to Atlanta to escape the cold and be near family.

But it took her longer than expected to get her state LPN license. Money ran out. The auxiliary learned about her struggles through its network.

“Our community organizations support our efforts, such as the Northlake Elks,” said auxiliary president Carol Ann Boyd. “We get the word out and partner with other organizations. We want to sponsor and adopt another family, but there’s only 25 or so active members in our unit.”

Now Thomas, with a stable job, public transit to get to it and a permanent roof over the heads of her and her son, 12, and daughter, 6, plans to show her gratitude by paying it forward, helping other homeless female veterans. She’s a complementary member of Post 207.

“They gave me so much. I feel guilty,” she said. “It was overwhelming. I don’t want to be greedy. I am trying to be self-sufficient, but they keep giving. I have been totally blessed. God has watched my steps.”

Her turnabout inspires Marty Boyd, post service officer and Carol Ann’s husband.

“I’m in a fact-finding stage to start a new charity,” the Vietnam Veteran told me. “I’d like a charity where veterans can get money for anything that makes them happy, to just fill the gaps other organizations don’t address. It could go nationwide easily.

“Like any fraternal organization, the Legion takes care of its own. The words ‘homeless’ and ‘veterans’ shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.”

For more information about the auxiliary’s project, contact Carol Ann Boyd at cacb55@yahoo.com.

Ending homelessness among our veterans

By Baylee Crone

We began 2015 with news that New Orleans has ended veteran homelessness. In Phoenix and Salt Lake City, chronic veteran homelessness reached zero in 2014. Across the country, local organizations are working closely to offer veterans a hand up out of homelessness.

At the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, we are often asked what these results mean, what comes next for communities like yours, and what you can do to create change.

The coalition is the only national organization devoted exclusively to ending veteran homelessness. Ensuring that every veteran in crisis has a place to turn is part of our mission, carried out by 2,100-plus community organizations across the country. To us and the organizations we represent, New Orleans, Phoenix and Salt Lake City are impressive accomplishments with lessons that can be mirrored across the country.

In 2014, an annual count of homeless persons revealed 49,933 homeless veterans on a single night in January. This number represents a 33-percent decrease and incredible progress since President Barack Obama declared the problem a national priority in 2009. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness, launched in 2010, changed the issue from a noble cause to a pending reality. We no longer ask if it can happen; we ask when?

Federal agencies within the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness provide complementary programs to meet each veteran’s needs. Different programs provide housing, employment and training, and temporary financial assistance. These programs are implemented by local government partners and community agencies.

Community agencies are on the front lines, helping veterans in crisis fit the pieces of their puzzle back together. At the local level, providers offer a safety net and a hand up to self-sufficiency and independence. They are fostering empowerment, halting cycles of abuse, and educating and protecting. We are proud to represent and recognize these unsung heroes.Other major partners have stepped in to do their part. In June 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness as a call to action for local leaders. The aim is to make a priority of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, and to apply the VA Five-Year Plan at the local level. New Orleans, Phoenix and Salt Lake City are examples of the success a community can have with a coordinated citywide effort and clear goals involving partners.

Your community is doing its part. From 2013 to 2014, veteran homelessness dropped from 1,805 to 1,443 in Georgia. Mayor Kasim Reed made it an Atlanta priority in 2012, and the city has taken several successful steps since then. Other signers of the Mayors Challenge include Ball Ground, Waleska and DeKalb and Fulton counties.

More needs to be done. We are working to make sure no veteran sleeps on our nation’s streets, and we ask you to do your part to ensure veterans in your community have a safe, stable place to call home.

Learn more about the national campaign to end veteran homelessness at www.nchv.org.

Baylee Crone is executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless


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