ICYMI: Time to Fight For Homeless Veterans - and Their Families
By: James Gillespie
Mile High Behavioral Healthcare and the Comitis Crisis Center
I will never forget the first time that I met DeLisa. She was walking down the hallway of the Comitis Crisis Center with her two small boys on each side of her, holding their mother’s hands. Comitis is a homeless shelter in Aurora, Colorado. When I first met her, I asked “Who are you here visiting?” My assumption was that she was a donor touring the building. Her reply surprised me: “We just moved into the third floor, the veterans’ wing.”
It turns out that DeLisa, an honorably-discharged U.S. Army veteran, and her boys, ages 5 and 2, were separating themselves from a domestic violence situation and drove all of the way from Georgia just to find safe shelter here in Colorado. Though once a highly successful businesswoman, DeLisa had to choose between her unsafe home and a safe homeless shelter.
The Comitis Crisis Center is one of the few homeless shelters in the United States that will take a veteran and his/her family and provide them all with a place to stay, for free, for up to two years. The program itself is a part of the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs Homeless Providers Grant and Per-Diem program. This program awards grants to community-based agencies that provide transitional housing and supportive services to assist homeless veterans in achieving residential stability and self-sufficiency. The VA provides per diem payments to nonprofit organizations to help offset the operational costs of these programs.
DeLisa’s story, unfortunately, is not that uncommon. It is estimated that there are at least 40,056 veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States. Can you imagine voluntarily signing up to serve your country, only to return home and not have a place to call your own? Indeed, we all need a safe place to call home. And yet in fiscal year 2017 alone, 600 grant-funded sites across the country provided shelter services to 23,737 veterans through the use of over 12,500 transitional housing beds. It is estimated that 2,500 dependent children of veterans stayed in this program and 13 percent of those served were homeless women.
What is causing an impediment to the access of shelter services for homeless Veterans with children? The answer can be found in policy. Currently, if you are a non-Veteran homeless family in the United States, federal funds will pay a “head-in-bed” per diem for each family member to the service agency housing the family. However, if you are a Veteran homeless family, the VA’s Grant and Per Diem program will only pay for the cost of occupancy for the veteran but not for the attached and dependent children. This issue causes a barrier to access shelter services for both male and female veterans with children, but more so for Veteran women who usually have children in tow.
That is why, the Comitis Crisis Center is supporting H.R. 4099: To amend title 38, United States Code, to ensure that children of homeless veterans are included in the calculation of the amounts of certain per diem grants. H.R. 4099, also known as the “Homeless Veteran Families Act,” is a bi-partisan bill that was introduced by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., and originally co-sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif. It has attracted 177 co-sponsors in the House, including all of our representatives here in Colorado.
We owe it to the brave men and women who have fought for us to speak up and ensure that their needs, and the needs of their children, are taken care of. They fought for our families and now it is time for us to fight for theirs.
So what can you do? If you have friends and family in other states, share this story with them. Ask them to write their representative and urge support for HR 4099, the Homeless Veteran Families Act.
It is “we the People” who can end veteran homelessness, but only if we speak up.
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