Vets are finding a way home

In case you missed it in May, The Record reported that the Coalition for the Homeless’ 2014 census showed a decline in homelessness.

That same document noted a significant decrease in homelessness among the city’s veterans.

It is a significant and remarkably positive development. Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer has said he hopes to end homelessness among veterans by the end of the year, and those involved in trying to meet that goal are optimistic about it.

That alone is cause for celebration. When is the last time those who work with the homeless have had reason for joy and optimism?

All of those who are part of this social justice effort — from city and federal agencies to the St. John Center for homeless men, the coalition, Catholic Charities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and others — should be proud of the work they’ve done.

In fact, at a recent social gathering of about a dozen veterans, many of them said they were aware of the news about the homeless census, and were encouraged that many of their brothers in arms were finding a place to live other than the streets.

One of them, who doesn’t happen to be Catholic, praised the efforts of the St. John Center and Catholic Charities specifically. He’d befriended a homeless vet who many people had seen in years past walking to and fro on Bardstown Road.

“He would hoof it down to the St. John Center during wintertime, and when the weather was good he’d walk up and down Bardstown Road, never speaking to anybody or asking for a thing,” Army veteran Christopher Tandy noted.

“Then all of a sudden we didn’t see him,” he said.

It turned out that this particular veteran was one of the 115 who have, in the past couple of years, found a place to live as a result of the Coalition for the Homeless and St. John Center programs helped by federal money.

Last month Maria Price, executive director of the St. John Center, noted that the percentage of veterans among her facility’s clientele had dropped from 29 percent in 2011 to 19 percent now.

“This is the difference that comes when a community and government make a commitment to finding housing for a specific homeless population,” she explained. “Now is not the time to retreat, though. We’ve shown that this really does work. We just need more housing.”

What is working are the efforts by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration to put more money into finding permanent housing for the homeless.

Once that commitment was made, local agencies that serve the homeless population here began to keep a “universal inventory” of people being served in the city, regardless of the agency. “We agreed our numbers could be more accurately tracked … if we had a ‘single point of entry’ into the system,” said Natalie Harris, executive director of the coalition.

When all the agencies cooperated on that point, the annual census of the homeless became more accurate, she said. That also enabled agencies to identify those who had been homeless the longest and they were given the first chance at housing.

With more money from HUD, more housing became available, Harris explained.

And with more housing available, more formerly homeless people found a permanent place to live. That’s especially true for the area’s homeless — or formerly homeless vets.

“That situation has turned around a little and that makes us all feel good,” said the St. John Center’s Price. “But there’s still a lot to be done.”

But commitments have been made; agencies are being helped; local people and parishes have all pitched in, too. As a result, those who have sacrificed for their country, their communities and their families, are finally finding a way home.

Glenn Rutherford
Record Editor Emeritus

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