Memorial Day honors the men and women who have died in service to our country so that we can enjoy freedom every day. Here, at the Office of Community Services (OCS), we appreciate the commitment and sacrifices of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces on Memorial Day and throughout the year. According to The Economist (Nov 12, 2014 edition), nearly 250,000 members of the armed services are expected to return to civilian life over the next five years. Many of these veterans will enter the workforce in a new job to support their families that may require learning different skills. Other veterans may return to civilian life as retired members of their communities offering unique insight on an increasingly global society, bearing skills of perseverance and fortitude. Yet, some may return to their communities with wounds of war, and attendant issues of day-to-day life in civilian society. This year, the Office of Community Services wants to highlight that the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) serves the needs of veterans and their families in communities across the nation.
In partnership with CSBG State Lead Agencies, State Community Action Associations, and a network of over 1,000 local Community Action Agencies, or CAAs, the Office of Community Services helps to address the needs of veterans. Local CAAs provide a range of services to meet individual veteran needs, such as job skills training, mortgage assistance, financial counseling and transportation assistance. CSBG is administered at the federal level by OCS, and traces its legacy of service back over 50 years, with a solid network of service and community identity.
One of our partners, the Community Action Partnership (CAP), is leading a special national effort to address the needs of homeless or imminently homeless veterans. CAP is the national association for CAAs. CAP is working to ensure that local agencies are prepared to respond to the issues that veterans face today through its implementation of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. The SSVF program is funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
One example of success with the SSVF program that CAP administers is Letitia. Letitia is a Navy veteran who served our country for four years maintaining diesel engines and other mechanics. “[The] Navy taught me about work ethic, dedication, attention to detail and focus,” Letitia recalled.
She describes her transition to civilian life as being difficult. She noted, “I had just had a daughter [2 months old at the time], was a first time mommy, and had a hard time finding a job.” She eventually found odd jobs, but nothing to sustain her and her family. Her situation remained challenging for years.
In 2014, Letitia was referred to Macomb County Community Services Association’s (MCCSA) SSVF program in Clinton Township, Michigan. At the time of her referral, Letitia was living in a home with her three children, ages 2, 3, and 11, and her significant other, who was often prone to domestic violence. They could barely afford the rent and other living expenses necessary to maintain their housing. When Letitia reached out to a social worker at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in Detroit for help, the social worker referred her to MCCSA’s SSVF program.
At MCCSA, Letitia worked closely with her case manager, creating a plan to stabilize her housing. She received rental assistance for a new home away from her abuser. The case manager was able to secure a three-bedroom home using the HUD-Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher, a housing voucher program specifically for veterans. She also received job resources and referrals to local organizations for other household needs. When asked about her current housing status, she could not contain her excitement. “Now I’m in stable housing, something I have never had. I am now in housing I can be financially responsible for maintaining,” she stated. Letitia added, “Now, my children have somewhere to play and we live right next to a park, which is so awesome!”
Having a high regard for education, Letitia eventually enrolled in a local community college and received her Associate’s Degree in Science. She is currently attending a four year college working on a bachelor’s degree in Music. She aspires to become a Broadway Star because of her love of singing and acting. She is also participating in an AmeriCorps program with a focus on the Urban Studies program and its mission of increasing public safety on Detroit’s east side. She credits her accomplishment, in part, to a diligent and compassionate case worker at MCCSA. “I’m so blessed this happened to me, my case manager was an angel - she really cared. I always felt she was there for me,” she acknowledged. With help from the SSVF program and other newly found resources, Letitia is able to provide a better life for her and her children.
CAP currently has three SSVF grant awards and collaborates with six Community Action Agencies as they serve clients in Maine, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina communities. These CAAs provide a range of supportive services, including case management and outreach, designed to promote housing stability and combat veteran homelessness. In addition, the CAAs provide assistance in obtaining VA and other applicable benefits and provision of payments to third parties that ensure stable transitions to permanent housing.
The SSVF program is demonstrating that high-impact interventions can successfully assist veteran families to avoid homelessness and achieve housing stability. SSVF sub-grantees have utilized a “housing first” approach to efficiently serve over 937 veteran families during this program year.
To continue to provide vital housing stability services, much like those Letitia received from MCCSA, CAP was recently awarded an additional $3 million from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ SSVF program. In the next year, CAP will offer training to CAAs to better serve veterans who face various challenges when returning to civilian life.
If you know of veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness, please contact the Veterans Affairs (VA) by calling 1-877- 4AID-VET or visit http://www.va.gov/womenvet/. Each VA medical center has a designated Women’s Veteran Coordinator. Homeless veterans who are seeking employment assistance can also coordinate with Local Veteran Employment Representatives (LVER) and the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP). Visit http://www.careeronestop.org/ to locate the nearest DVOP and LVER in your state. Additionally, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) offices are located in each of the 50 states and can assist you with locating a job or program that best fits your needs. A list of VETS offices can be found at: http://www.dol.gov/vets/aboutvets/contacts/main.htm.
We are proud of the efforts of our partners, like CAP and Macomb County Community Services agency, to meet the needs of struggling veterans — effectively serving those who have given much to serve our country.