By Lauren Cabral
The Cove Herald
For most people, the word "homeless" does not typically conjure up images of young soldiers leaving the military, but Mike Husted said the situation isn't uncommon.
"We used to think folks who were homeless were generally a 50-year-old or 60-year-old male," said Husted, program director for the Veterans Homelessness Prevention Demonstration Project. "Now, we're seeing more young families and single moms with children."
Husted and others try to prevent veterans from being evicted from their homes through the VHPD project, which began in April at five military installations, including Fort Hood.
The program serves Coryell, Bell, McClennan, Travis and Williamson counties. Husted said it has 34 open cases, 25 of which involve families. Fifteen of those cases list female veterans as heads of households. A total of 25 evictions have been avoided.
"It's kind of cool because never before have we had the opportunity to prevent homelessness," Husted said.
The program was announced in July 2010 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which invested $15 million in existing HUD grantees or "Continuums of Care" located near MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Camp Pendleton, Calif., Fort Drum, N.Y., Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington and Fort Hood.
Each grantee received $2 million. VA medical centers in Tampa, Dallas, San Diego, Syracuse, N.Y., and American Lake, Wash., received $1 million.
Husted said Fort Hood likely was chosen because of the size of the post, the work VA does with its homeless program and the large numbers of homeless individuals in the area.
The program is a three-year project partnered with Veterans Affairs, the Salvation Army in Austin and the Labor Department, which is represented locally by the Texas Veteran's Commission, Husted said.
"We're hoping to get a lot of success so we can try to go nationwide or expand it," he said, "The VA's goal is to end homelessness among veterans; so, this project's out there in the forefront trying to see if we can figure out some smart ways to do it."
Those eligible for assistance are female veterans; veterans with families, especially with a single head of household; those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn; and those in the National Guard or Reserves.
They must have been homeless for 90 days or less or be on the verge of becoming homeless. They also cannot make more than 50 percent of the average minimum income of the county they live in.
"If I had to guess, most of them have been out less than a year," Husted said of the veterans he's served.
Services include providing financial assistance with rent, utilities and security deposits for three to 18 months, and supportive services such as case management, credit repair, family services and employment services.
Zachary Rummings, veterans outreach specialist at the Killeen/Heights Veterans Center, is responsible for spreading the word about the program.
He visits different organizations in the community and Fort Hood and National Guard units to talk about homelessness prevention techniques and services for those being medically discharged and disabled veterans. He also maintains a relationship with homeless shelters and soup kitchens in the area.
"I talk about saving money and planning for the worst-case scenario, not the best-case scenario," said Rummings, a disabled combat veteran who was injured in Iraq.
"I had a lot of comrades who didn't plan accordingly and they kind of struggled when they got out."
Husted said referrals to the program are internally as well as from outside agencies in the community. Once veterans make contact, they are screened and undergo a clinical assessment to see if they need rehab, medical or mental health treatment.
Husted said that during the intake process, all questions for the VA, Salvation Army and Texas Veteran's Commission are answered, so the veteran may work with all of those agencies quickly. Cases are staffed weekly with those agencies.
"If all parties agree, the next step would be for the veteran to meet with the workforce commission if they need a job or a better job, and the Salvation Army case manager to begin working with them and landlord to help prevent an eviction or to find a place," Husted said.
Program participants are recertified every 90 days, though Husted said most will only be in the program for 90 days.
"What happens is in most cases they're a couple months behind on their rent, so the Salvation Army will catch up that and the next month's rent, or work it out where they pay a portion of the rent," he said.
He said a major strength of the program was the Salvation Army's ability to transport families, allowing other agencies to focus solely on the veterans.
Jerry Butts, lead employment representative of the Veterans Employment Central Texas North Region, said it is his team's job to assist veterans in finding employment.
So far, they have worked with about 30 people to create a Work In Texas account, hunt for jobs, call employers interested in hiring veterans and create resumes. Butts said they've tried "to get veterans the job they dreamed of or as close to it as we can get it."
Butts and others involved with the project said they enjoyed working for something they'd been touched by and were passionate about.
"For me, having almost been in a situation like this, this is one of the best things that's ever happened, because at least the program focuses on prevention," Butts said. "It is designed to ensure that once the veteran gets stabilized, training takes place to make sure this doesn't happen again."
"I am a veteran, I've been there, I know what it's like," Rummings added. "I wanted to make sure the process was smooth for other veterans."
"It's an excellent job," he said. "It's an honor to serve any veteran, and it's kind of exciting we were selected for this project, and we're getting some good results out of it so far."
For more information on the program, call the VA National Call Center for Homeless Veterans hotline at 1 (877) AID-VET, or 1 (877) 424-3838.
Contact Lauren Cabral at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7476.