The greatest challenge reaching, engaging, and serving homeless and at-risk veterans is often the “broken trust” they’ve felt towards the VA for years or even decades.
The greatest challenge reaching, engaging, and serving homeless and at-risk veterans is often the “broken trust” they’ve felt towards the VA for years or even decades. Arthur Harris is one example.
World War II Veteran Waited Half a Century for VA Benefits
When I first met the 102-year old World War II veteran as Purple Heart Homes, a North Carolina Veteran Services Organization, was installing a wheelchair ramp at his West Park, Florida home, Mr. Harris told me he’d given up on VA more than 40 years prior. It took some convincing to get Mr. Harris to agree to give our Veteran Benefits team a chance to assist him. When Mr. Harris learned the team was led by Kevin Williams, who himself served 28 years in the US Army, he agreed to give us a chance.
Last week Mr. Harris received a letter from VA for which he’d waited more than half a century. He was awarded service connected disability payments for injuries he suffered 50 plus years earlier. He did not receive compensation for the decades in which VA denied his claim, but for the time this 102 year old veteran has left, he’ll receive monthly payments starting this month.
Answering the Call 24/7/365
In South Florida, Purpose Built Families Foundation answers veterans’ calls for help 24/7/365. Just since October, the program, funded by a VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant, has served 1,113 veterans and their family members in Broward and Miami-Dade counties: 732 unique veteran households. During that period, the program has distributed more than $1.6 million in temporary financial assistance for expenses as diverse as rental and security deposit assistance, child care help, hotel and motel stays, utility payments, emergency food and related supplies, transportation assistance, and more.
Those 732 veteran households are in addition to nearly 1,000 veterans served every year by the agency’s Operation Sacred Trust collaboration since 2011.
At the current pace, Operation Sacred Trust will have served all the veterans expected and budgeted for the entire fiscal year that ends on September 30 several months early.
Vulnerable Veterans Have No One to Fall Back On in a Crisis
Those veterans represent just a small fraction of America’s warriors who reach out during a crisis. The most common shared characteristic of those homeless and at-risk veterans seeking public assistance is that they have no one else to fall back on. Rapidly accessing the housing and related benefits their military service earned them becomes more urgent than ever.
Resources Don’t Always Reach Veterans in Need
The resources allocated to help those veterans do not always reach them, and often don’t reach them in time to prevent homelessness and reduce the likelihood these veterans will join the ranks of the nearly 20 military veterans who take their own lives in the United States each day.
VA Leadership: Zero Tolerance for Criticism
In 12 years working with the Department of Veterans Affairs on implementation of our VA-funded SSVF grant, you probably can’t imagine how many times I’ve actually been able to reach VA homeless program leadership to help a veteran in crisis or solve an urgent challenge over more than a decade. The answer: once. More often than not, emails to VA Homeless Program Office leaders are responded to with out of office messages, or not answered at all.
Despite my hopes, that single interaction was not about helping more veterans Operation Sacred Trust was unable to serve, or expanding services to help other veterans in crisis. It was a request from the SSVF Program Director at the time, John Kuhn, to censor the video above in which a formerly homeless veteran told the story of how deeply he’d been hurt by VA’s own actions after he reached out for urgent assistance to the VA crisis line during the early days of the pandemic.
It shouldn’t be taken for granted that a veteran or Veterans Services Organization can be critical of VA. The price can result in veterans being denied VA services altogether, evictions as Mr. LoBello experienced, or grant funds terminated for seemingly arbitrary and capricious reasons.
Earlier this year , VA SSVF Compliance Officer Jeffrey Houser directed VA’s Grant Per Diem Office to shutter Broward County’s sole transitional housing facility for homeless veterans with 30 days notice, citing an audit finding that was the same as findings for many other VA programs that remained operational. Those veterans are now at highest risk for suicide; many remain homeless. Houser’s insistence the program be closed came days after national accreditation leaders said the program should be the model for the entire nation.
“We do that all the time.”
“We do that all the time,” Houser said when asked how VA’s Homeless Program Office can terminate frontline veteran service programs with as little as seven days notice that thousands of veterans in a community depend on for urgent assistance. America’s most vulnerable veteran and military families pay the price. For a grantee wronged by VA, they can file an appeal with the VA, which is currently nearly two years backlogged.
While Purpose Built Families Foundation is today able to respond to every call for help from homeless and at-risk veterans in South Florida, there are many more the nonprofit doesn’t have resources to assist. The idea that they can depend on VA directly is misguided at best.
Here are just a handful of recent requests from veterans Operation Sacred Trust has been unable to serve because of VA Homeless Program Office rules:
Veteran Cries for Help
“I am not sure of the programs to which I may qualify or need to apply for. I am a Veteran woman age 52 on disability. I am in need of emergency rental assistance and permanent housing before homeless in less than month to 2 months. Fear homelessness.
The rent has been rising and I’m unable to afford to stay. There are also problems with Manager continually verbally abusing me, threatening eviction and continual rent raising. Also not fixing problems arisen (possibly should be condemned). Mental emotional abuse from Manager. Please help.”
Lake Alfred, Florida
“My husband is the veteran, and he is 100% service connected. We had a Home we were renting that we had to vacate unexpectedly due to serious structural and safety issues at the property. We’ve spent some time in hotels and are currently staying with friends and family but soon that option will run out. We have some complex historical issues that prevent us from qualifying for most rentals, especially those that meet our needs and/or that we can afford. Any help is very much appreciated!”
“Need help emergency rental assistance.”
Charlotte, North Carolina
“I am a US Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, and I am humbly requesting your guidance as I am in need of emergency rental assistance to avoid eviction due to the fact that my monthly VA disability check was deposited into my old bank account that has a negative balance and I am in the process of closing because of poor customer service and other issues with that bank. Despite updating my direct deposit info for my new account over 2 weeks prior to my payment date with the VA , the entire check- which is what I have depended on to pay my rent every month for years- was still deposited into the old account and the entire amount was applied to my negative balance.”
“I have no other means of generating income due to my disability nor do I have any vehicles, savings, or other assets that I can sell to come up with the rent, and I do not have any friends nor family to reach out to for financial assistance. Without some sort of immediate emergency assistance, my landlord will continue adding daily late fees to my rent until evicting me for nonpayment which he can do now at any time. Please advise as to any loans, grants, programs or anything that I can do at this point to keep myself, my son, and my dog from being homeless.”
“Needless to say, I already plan on paying it forward in the future with donations to help your organization along with other veterans assistance programs. Thank you in advance, and God bless.”
“My father is a veteran. He is currently sleeping on my couch. I live in an efficiency and cannot afford to relocate him as I am in the Police Academy with low income.”
Daytona Beach, Florida
“I am a disabled Veteran and I am at-risk for eviction. I am on HUD-VASH and I am attempting to speak to the rental office but I am afraid of being evicted due to miscommunications/misunderstanding with the Housing Authority. I am seeking financial assistance because the Rental Office is demanding an amount that I cannot afford to pay by next week. Can you please assist.”
“I have recently become homeless and jobless and am in need of help with housing and food.”
“Hello. I need help with getting moved to a 2 bedroom apartment. Where I live in now is inadequate for my son and I. Needing housing fast. I’m homeless and living in my car i am being removed from my premises for no reason after i paid rent and now i am facing homelessness.”
“I AM A 100% DISABLED FEMALE VETERAN GOING THRU A DIVORCE AND AM A VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. I AM CURRENTLY LIVING IN MY VEHICLE WITH MY TWO DOGS .MY RIGHT FRONT TIRE VIBRATES THE WHOLE CAR WHEN I ACCELERATE, AND IS GETTING WORSE EVERYDAY. I AM IN FEAR OF WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME IF MY CAR BREAKS DOWN.I HAVE NO ONE ELSE TO ASK FOR HELP. I AM IN DESPERATE NEED OF ANY HOUSING/HOTEL,FOOD,GAS ,CAR REPAIR ASSISTANCE THAT IS AVAILABLE AND WOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR ANY HELP.”
“Good Afternoon, I have a wheelchair bound Veteran who need assistance with his shelter payment. Trying to find a resource for him for 1 month. He needs payment by tomorrow to stay. Thank you.”
“I have been homeless 1 year now on the streets am 68 yrs old disabled USMC vet need immediately temp shelter motel or other ways to sleep safe shower and just feel better about my future thank you please.”
St. Pete, Florida
“I am a 90% disabled permanent and totally UI Iraqi Freedom Combat Veteran, having served in Iraq October of 2003-March of 2004. I am rated with PTSD 70% Bipolar 1 %70 those are joined as a single designation and the rest is rated for back issues and hearing issues. I am facing an eviction notice from my apartment community and the court dat is set for the 19th of April 2023. Unfortunately I have been a victim of identity theft and my bank account was compromised. There is a police report filed with the City of Richardson, TX but my account was drained and until the investigation is complete, I am unable to pay rent right now for the past due balance of 4,747.63. I am able to pay the rent moving forward, as I have my VA disability payments of 4054.12 going to a new account that hasn’t been compromised. Any assistance would be much appreciated.”
“I have to admit from the very start, I don’t think you will me even consider helping me. So, I am resolved that Im going to be homeless. With that being said …. I am a 100% permanent, totally, unemployable disabled Veteran. I am an Honorably discharged Veteran finally I am service connected. I do receive100% benefits, a little over $3200 , however, I simply don’t have the money. Wounded Warriors helped me get into the apartment that I am in. 1st last and deposit.. I have no issue with putting that towards an apartment but that won’t cover an apartment that I Need. What folks aren’t understanding or considering is that I have bills too. I’m told by everyone ‘wow’ you make great money, they also say we won’t help you because you make too much money. No one and I mean no one considers things like I spent most of November in and out of the hospital. No one considers that I am too sick to do anything. No one considers life’s little emergencies, I had to spend $1500 on a recliner so I can stand up at home. The brakes on my car went out, almost $ 800. Yes I get somewhere around $3200 a month, but I do pay my bills, and anyone knows that when you pay bills you stay home a lot. I don’t have the ability to even go to the movies by myself. I am unable to go grocery shopping, I get dizzy. I have a Service Dog to help with my mobility and PTSD. As soon as someone get wind that I have PTSD all bets are off. I’ve done everything the VA has told me to do concerning help. The so-called social work that the VA provides is useless. She, out of everyone, should be the one to help me with an apartment. Other than a studio which I have too much furniture for is between $600 – $1600. The mean for rent in this area is $ 2000 for a 1/1. The major issue is that I need help with deposits … I have no issue paying the money back. You will have ALL my info. I can’t go anywhere if I wanted, However, No – ONE wants to or cares enough to help a Veteran ‘up’ instead of allowing homelessness In closing, Yes I am very articulate writing but speaking is completely different, I stutter, and get nervous and sweat, then scared , I get confused lose focus and then I use words to piss people off. Not profanity ! That is why I isolate, so I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. People Hate the truth especially if they are wrong. I have no clue why I am venting to you. For all I know you could care less too. The point is that I need help and no-one ‘can’ or will help me, not even the VA. Sorry to waste your time.”
“I’m several hundred dollars short for rent this month. I tried to pay rent but the check just bounced. I don’t know what to do. The apartment is giving us an eviction notice. Help!”
“Hi the manager from the program for keys is checking us out because they didn’t extend he’s the veteran and we have a 3 month old thank you I am losing the room I have been renting for the last year, as the original renter is coming back.”
“I have been homeless three times in the last ten years…my income isn’t enough to pay for a place by myself. I need to be back in the Tampa area to be nearer to my church. Can you help me?
St. Petersburg, Florida
“Honorable Discharged Vet/ with spouse, Seeking help in housing finding housing an assistance.”
Palm Beach, Florida
“Retired veteran looking for immediate rental assistance. Income was cut short greatly due to retiring in January and currently in the process of trying to find employment. Is facing eviction soon. Is there immediate rental assistance available?”
Seth Eisenberg is co-founder of Operation Sacred Trust, Chairman and CEO of Purpose Built Families Foundation, an award winning author and nonprofit leader. The views expressed in this article are his alone and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization or FatherhoodChannel.com.