Community must always step up for veterans
With last week's focus on Veterans Day, this is a good time to let veterans and their families know there are a multitude of resources out there to help them, and not just when Veterans Day rolls around. And it's critical to remember that, for many veterans, more struggles come after the battlefield. For veterans, the travails of daily life, which most of us are able to handle, can sometimes be a major challenge.
To start, there's a National Call Center for Homeless Veterans that can be reached at 1-877-424-3838. Trained responders staff the hotline 24/7 and can provide emergency support and resources.
There's also a Veteran Services office in Washington County that can be contacted at 1-855-673-2372. Its goal is to ensure that Washington County veterans and their families receive all benefits provided by federal and state law.
As an Army veteran, I'm proud that a grateful nation and local community groups are ready to help.
Cold weather was on its way when Michael's water heater died. A disabled veteran living in Beaverton, he couldn't afford to replace it. He was at his wit's end when Community Action came to his aid, installing a new water heater at no cost to him.
Rondale Mason, a disabled Army veteran, his wife, Jasmine, and their children needed help, too, when they couldn't secure a rental apartment. Frustrated and despondent, they turned to Community Action. For a while they lived at the Good Neighbor Center homeless shelter in Tigard. Community Action then helped them obtain a pleasant, affordable apartment.
For energy conservation assistance in Washington County, Community Action has money to help with heating and electricity bills and to perform home weatherization projects. This past fiscal year the agency leveraged funds from federal and state governments, ratepayers and a donation from the Oregon International Air Show. About 10 percent of those helped have a veteran in the family.
"Our goal is to cost effectively make homes more safe, healthy, comfortable and energy efficient," said Randy Olsen, energy conservation program manager for Community Action.
Olsen told of one situation where a 65-year-old Forest Grove resident was living in a 700 square foot home with holes in the floor, a leaking roof, a broken furnace and water heater, no running water and a rotted-out floor in the bathroom. Not only did Community Action complete a comprehensive weatherization effort, but staff and community volunteers came out to do other home repairs and trim the trees on her property.
Because military veterans are much more likely to be homeless than other Americans, government and nonprofits are there to help with homelessness as well.
Some veterans and their families are eligible for vouchers for rental units through the HUD-VA Supportive Housing program, a joint effort of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration.
In Washington County, another option is Community Action's Supportive Services for Veteran's Families (SSVF) program. The program's goal is to promote housing stability among very low-income veteran families who reside in permanent housing or are transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing. This past year, the program spent $216,581 to serve 58 veterans and their families.
Under SSVF, a Community Action caseworker can find apartments for homeless veterans and help them acquire furniture from Community Warehouse, a nonprofit that distributes donated furniture. Caseworkers can also help homeless veterans get IDs, driver's licenses, vital records and even bus tickets. Further, if a veteran needs a job, caseworkers can connect them with WorkSource Oregon, a state resource for job-seekers.
Some veterans connect with SSVF when they call Community Action seeking assistance. The VA also reaches out to veterans, and some are identified during an annual homeless count.
"But it can be a real challenge to find all the vets who are out there," said Larry Hauth, family development manager at Community Action. "Some just don't want to be bothered. Some are living way out in the woods."
Despite the difficulties, the commitment to assist veterans continues.
"It's really all about meeting vets where they're at," said Hauth, "trying to find out
what their strengths are and what they
can do and trying to create opportunities for them."
Tripp (Harrison) Royce is owner and architect of SRM Architecture + Marketing in Portland.