Number of homeless veterans decreasing
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org December 26, 2012 10:10PM
Jason Florek waits patiently for lunch to start at the Veterans Life Changing Services home in Gary Friday Dec. 14, 2012. Florek, of Hammond, is a veteran of the US Marine Corps and said he's lived at the transitional housing facility for four months. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 27, 2012 9:27PM
The number of homeless veterans in Northwest Indiana dropped by more than half — reflecting a national trend — in the annual Point in Time homeless count on Jan. 25, 2012.
Local homeless advocates say housing options and services tailored specifically for veterans may be contributing to the trend.
President Barack Obama set a goal of eradicating homelessness among veterans by 2015. Since 2009, the national number has dropped by 17 percent to 62,619. In a conference call last week, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Veterans Administration Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki focused on the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program.
“The president has made it very clear that he won’t be satisfied until every veteran who fought for America has a home in America,” Shinseki said.
Donovan said the decline in the number of veterans and chronic homeless was a “real accomplishment when you consider this country is still recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”
Sharron Liggins, executive director of the Continuum of Care Network of Northwest Indiana, said the numbers from January’s count dropped a fair amount compared with 2011 — with 269 homeless people counted compared with 438, 143 homeless households compared with 299, and 23 homeless veterans compared with 62.
“I was concerned because the numbers didn’t look the same as the past few years and I wondered what was going on. Porter County’s region, Fort Wayne and Evansville all went up,” Liggins said. “We’ve increased the number of permanent housing options, therefore it’s beginning to show in the numbers. We know they’re still out there in hidden places but permanent housing is having an effect.”
Vernita Leslie, executive director of the Broadway Area Community Development Corp. in Gary, said two new permanent housing facilities are set to break ground in Gary in 2013. South Shore Commons will offer 60 units near 20th Avenue and Pierce Street in Gary, while Homes for Heroes will offer 44 units near 839 Massachusetts St.
Porter County is part of a six-county region that also includes LaPorte, Newton, Jasper, Starke and Pulaski counties. Overall, 300 homeless people were counted compared with 173 in 2011. In addition, 153 households were counted compared with 108 in 2011 and seven homeless veterans were found compared with nine in 2011.
More than just a place to live needed
The annual Point in Time homeless count takes place in a 24-hour period in late January. The census helps give local, state and federal officials an idea of the scope of homelessness in their communities. Volunteers count those on the streets and in shelters.
William Gillespie, from Continuum of Care, said the count is an opportunity to impact the community.
“We get people into housing and treatment that we wouldn’t normally cross paths with,” he said.
Making a dent in the number of homeless is more than just finding a place to live since many homeless veterans have psychological and substance abuse issues, medical disabilities and other factors that may have led to their being homeless in the first place.
Veterans Life Changing Services’ Clinical Director Dr. Henry Hitchcock is a disabled veteran, so he knows the challenges involved with keeping homeless veterans from returning to the streets. The facility houses an average of 22 veterans at a time and 300 veterans have been served by the program — most between the ages of 45 and 60.
“It’s very difficult and very complex because we have guys who have learned to survive under bridges,” Hitchcock said. “They’ve adapted, so it’s difficult for them to come in and restructure themselves. We have prepared them and in preparing them they don’t have identification or social security cards. So they lack being connected to basic norms of society and can’t open a bank account.”
Hitchcock said some veterans struggle with the structure of the 30-day program, which assesses what brought them to the point of being homeless.
“Sometimes they challenge the structure (of the program), which is part of what kept them on the outside of society,” Hitchcock said. “After a 30-day period, we’ll transition them into transition-vocational housing.
“Once we get them about three to four months into the program, the opportunity to connect is at its maximum,” Hitchcock said.