Nov 18, 2013
05:30 AM
The Connecticut Story

Homeless Connecticut Vets, Once Ignored, Get Needed Support

Homeless Connecticut Vets, Once Ignored, Get Needed Support

Peter Hvizdak

Mary Porter, left, CEO and executive director of No Vet Left Behind, and Army veteran Joseph Oliveras of Seymour are seen at the Stars and Stripes Thrift Shoppe in Ansonia.

On any given night, more than 300 Connecticut veterans go without a home.

Men and women, many of whom fought in foreign combat theaters, find shelter under highway overpasses, in back alleys and at homeless shelters across the state.

“There’s no reason there should be homeless veterans,” said Joseph Oliveras, a 53-year-old Army veteran who spent 20 years living on the street. “How about taking care of the people who fought for this country and served this country?”

Once largely ignored by policymakers, homelessness among veterans has become a top priority of federal, state and local service organizations.

In 2009, President Barack Obama and Veteran Affairs Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki set a goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.

Those on the ground say ending chronic homelessness — where veterans find themselves living on the streets or in shelters for years — is attainable.

“Ending homelessness means creating a system where if they end up homeless, the experience is brief, rare and nonrecurring,” said Nichole Guerra, policy analyst at Partnership for Strong Communities, a Hartford-based think tank.

Among key components of the plan to eradicate veteran homelessness is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs distribution of housing vouchers for veterans. Called Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, or HUD-VASH, vouchers, the money helps place veterans in housing so the VA then can wrap around other support services, such as mental health assistance, substance abuse treatment and job training.

Since 2008, HUD has distributed more than 48,000 of the vouchers, with another 10,000 in the pipeline. This year alone, more than $1.4 billion will be spent housing the homeless, and the VA will spend another $4.4 billion on health care for homeless veterans.

The program is expensive, but those on the ground contend that ending homelessness for any group involves an obvious first step.

“Part of ending homelessness for vets will mean putting folks on a path to independence, and that means getting people housed more quickly,” said Greg Behrman, founder of the Connecticut Heroes Project.

Meanwhile, Connecticut is offering tax credits to companies that hire veterans.

Efforts at both the national and state levels seem to be paying returns.

Nationwide, the number of homeless veterans is down 17 percent, according to the VA. In Connecticut, it’s down from 461 in 2010 to 340 this year, according to Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

On Friday, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both D-Conn., along with U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, announced that a VA grant for $137,410 was secured for the Applied Behavioral Rehabilitation Institute in Bridgeport, which provides housing, mental health care assistance, substance abuse counseling and vocational training for veterans. The grant will pay for renovations on the facility and a new van to transport vets.

Two Connecticut nonprofits, the Partnership for Strong Communities and the Connecticut Heroes Project, have launched a job-training and placement program to assist veterans.

Despite the efforts of the VA, HUD and hundreds of nonprofits across the country and in Connecticut, ending homelessness among veterans remains a tall task. Currently more than 62,000 former service men and women are without a home; an additional 1.4 million veterans are at-risk of ending up on the street, according to the VA.

For more, visit New Haven Register.


Homeless Connecticut Vets, Once Ignored, Get Needed Support

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