Agencies partner for homeless veterans

Nearly 15 percent of the 807 homeless counted were veterans, and half of those vets were labeled as vulnerable due to health problems ranging from hepatitis C to emphysema.

And 75 percent of the vets were honorably discharged and qualify for benefits that many aren't receiving.

The partnership seeks to remedy that, said Kathy Izard, director of the ministry's Homeless to Homes program.

Among the benefits available are vouchers for housing.

"We're creating a system to find the veterans and get them registered, so they'll be in line for housing once vouchers are available," Izard said.

The partnership has so far found a home for three vets in a ministry pilot program. The regional VA anticipates getting 50 more housing vouchers later this year. Until those arrive, the ministry is working to connect veterans with a variety of resources.

"We knew we had chronically homeless vets out there, but the survey gave us the numbers: 1 in 8," said Liz Clasen-Kelly of the Urban Ministry. "That was startling to think of folks who gave service to our country, and where are they now?"

The number didn't surprise officials at the region's Veterans Administration Hospital in Salisbury.

Hattie Johnson, VA homeless coordinator for the region, said it assessed over 700 homeless vets last year.

Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled a five-year plan to end homelessness among veterans. And among the solutions it encourages is creating partnerships with nonprofits and charities.

"Requiring agencies to collaborate is the only way you're going to address homelessness," Johnson said.

"Agencies like the Urban Ministry, which can identify the veterans, along with employment agencies and housing programs, are players who need to be at the table."

In recent months, agencies like the Charlotte Housing Authority, Salvation Army, Goodwill, WISH and Habitat for Humanity have all partnered in similar efforts to help the community's homeless.

As part of the VA-Urban Ministry effort, the VA is sending a clinical social worker to the Urban Ministry one morning a week, to help vets with benefits questions.

Marsheta Boyton advises from five to 15 veterans during those visits. She sees it as the grassroots component of the VA's mission.

Her weekly route also includes stops at the city's homeless shelters.

"It's quite humbling," Boyton said. "One decision may have caused them to be in their predicament, and a lack of knowledge of the resources out there makes it more difficult for them to get out of it."

At the least, she said, the partnerships being forged with agencies such as Urban Ministry will help supply the answers they need.

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