Phyllis Kimber-Wilcox | Black Voice News

“We honor our veterans,” is a mantra repeated again and again every Veterans Day in America and yet nearly 40,000 veterans remain unhoused across the country.  

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in the years leading up to the pandemic, veteran homelessness was cut roughly in half. (source: endhomelessness.org)

While in recent years there has been a decreasing need for homeless veterans services, most of  the decrease in need  can be attributed to increased funding to not only address their needs but to do so in a way that includes the idea of providing housing first. 

The housing first model  emphasizes  housing homeless veterans as a priority and then addressing other issues such as counseling, substance abuse, and unemployment which contribute to homelessness once they are housed. While this model has proved to be effective, there are many veterans who still need support.  

The continuing need

Key findings in a report issued by the California Department of Housing and Human Development (CDHH), the agency responsible for Project Home Key, a program designed to immediately house the homeless during the early days of the pandemic, suggests that mistakes were made which may have impacted how quickly services could be provided to the homeless population. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created Continuums of Care or COC’s.  COC’s are composed of what the agency describes as “a wide-range of representatives from public and private entities that include civic groups, educational institutions, faith-based organizations, health and mental health care providers, local government, and non-profit agencies. These organizations are responsible for promoting and implementing evidence-based, best, promising, and emerging practices for both preventing and bringing an end to homelessness.

However, the CDHH report highlighted how COC’s were impeded in their efforts due to their inability to access government funding in a timely manner. This caused delays in the provision of services to homeless populations.

Help is available

There are several programs and organizations which offer assistance to homeless veterans. Many nonprofits like the Volunteers of America (VOA) for example, offer case management services and ways of connecting veterans with the help they need.  

In another example, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has teamed with Project Touch. Part of its mission is to end homelessness in the Temecula Valley region by providing services to the homeless in the area. In a recent interview Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco stated in his recent RSO podcast

“As a deputy in a patrol car when you find that [homeless] person…I don’t want to say you get excited because we obviously feel for people that are like that, but we know this person needs help and we are going to be able to help them.”

At times, those situations, those encounters happen in the middle of the night when county businesses, county buildings, county offices, other than the Sheriff’s Department, are not open in the middle of the night. 

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco discusses the issue of homelessness during a recent RSO podcast. (source: riversidesheriff.org)

Due to these circumstances, according to Bianco, “[A] lot of times we’re stuck with what we can do and how we can help that person. We’ve seen some things I like on social media where deputies are temporarily paying for hotel rooms for someone to stay overnight  or something but a lot of times that’s not an option there’s nothing after that first day.”

Riverside County and Project Touch

One of the programs the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department looks to regarding homelessness in the Temecula area is Project Touch.   

Project Touch grew organically from the faith-based community’s attempt to respond to the lack of services for the homeless in partnership with law enforcement officers in the community. According to Bianco, it started by providing hotel rooms and has expanded to provide beds for the homeless. “I’ve heard so many success stories,,” Bianco explained when he described the success of Project Touch. “If you need assistance in Riverside County, Project Touch can help.”

Project Touch serves over 200 Daily in a shared housing program and winter shelter providing support for veterans, single moms, families, seniors and the disabled. (source: projecttourch.com)

Point in Time

According to the 2020 point in time survey which measures the number of homeless people in an area on a single night in January, there were 3,125 homeless people in San Bernardino County of which 234were veterans, and 2,155  homeless people in Riverside County of which 233 veterans.

The Point in Time survey measures the number of homeless people in an area on a single night in January each year. (source: militarytimes.gov)

One of the best ways to obtain assistance for a veteran struggling with homelessness is through the Department of Veteran Affairs. 

Veterans of Color remain the most impacted

Despite progress toward ending veterans’ homelessness and even with all racial and ethnic subgroups having benefited from the movement to end veteran’s homelessness, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports veterans of color are still more likely to experience homelessness. Although Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander veterans are most at risk of homelessness, American Indians and Black veterans are similarly impacted.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports veterans of color are still more likely than White veterans to experience homelessness. (source: endhomelessness.org)

Homeless veterans in some areas are in crisis

On Monday, November 1st, an area known as Veterans Row, an encampment of homeless Vets in Los Angeles, was disbanded. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, who visited the site, declared the conditions he found there  were “unacceptable.” 

At the conclusion of his visit McDonough agreed to help find housing for veterans who were encamped at the West Los Angeles site elsewhere by the end of November.

Veterans Row, located along San Vicente Blvd, in Los Angeles, grew up around the West Los Angeles VA facility and continued to expand during the coronavirus pandemic. Recent concerns over safety of the veterans who live there have grown due to recent deaths that have occurred at the campsite. 

Some of the veterans from Veterans  Row were moved directly on to the campus of the West Los Angeles VA, where they are being provided with basic necessities and services, while others are being sheltered in Inglewood by the nonprofit organization USVETS

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, who visited the infamous Veterans Row along San Vicente Blvd. in Los Angeles earlier this month, declared the conditions there unacceptable. (souce: keough.nd.edu)

The mission of USVETS is to end homelessness for those who have served their country. According to its website, “[The streets] are simply no place for veterans; no place for the many men and women who volunteered, giving of themselves and their youth, to protect our great freedoms.”

There is help available

For veterans in need of rental assistance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development VA Supportive Housing program  HUD-VASH can offer rental assistance as well as needed supportive resources. 

Veterans who may be in immediate need  of housing services can seek support through the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 4AID-VET (877-424-3838). In addition, the US Department of Veterans Affairs offers assistance through Community Resource and Referral Centers or CRRC’s which provide information about the options available for veterans. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers grant assistance through its VA grant and per diem program as funding permits to community agencies providing services to Veterans experiencing homelessness.

Header photo: (A homeless US military veteran in San Francisco, California. Image: Vera Yu and David Li/Flickr/CC-BY 2.0)