Housing for veterans can help a vulnerable population

“Most of the veterans don’t make it home. A lot of them do, but they don’t get the help. And it’s sad, that’s all I can say. I’m just emotional because I know a lot of veterans out there are struggling and not getting the help,” said veteran Greg Cross.

Over 40,000 veterans in the United States are homeless, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s just over 9 percent of all homeless adults.

“It’s very sad, for a person that served this country and doesn’t get the proper resource or the help,” he said.

Cross entered the military when he was 18-years-old right out of high school. He wanted to fight for his country just as his grandfather did in World War II and his uncle did in Vietnam. But when Cross came back home, he struggled with addiction, and he, too, ended up homeless.

Anthony Oakes was a case manager for years in the community where Cross now lives. He says there are many factors why a veteran might end up on the street.

‘”We all see that PTSD person coming back from war. Those individuals right now, in the wars that we’re dealing with right now, there’s no way to even describe what they’ve been through and the pain and suffering that they go through and the fact that they are absolutely changed,” said Oakes.

Even in boot camp, Oakes says soldiers experience sexual assault.

“Almost all the women we see, we have six beds in a 95-bed, almost all of them have had some MST, military sexual trauma. So it’s a big time issue, and PTSD comes along with that, and all the other issues that come along with it,” Oakes said.

Just like Cross, many turn to drugs and alcohol and end up homeless. Federal data from 2017 shows there are roughly 583 homeless veterans in the state.

“A veteran really is going to do everything they can on their own before they ever ask for help,” said Oakes. “As a country, if we don’t do what’s right by them we are absolutely wrong.”

Several bills are on the table to help homeless veterans. One is known as the tiny home pilot program which encourages the development of tiny home units, 400 square-feet or less, to rent to people who qualify for very low-income housing.

The owner of B&B Micro Manufacturing says it’s a great idea.

“When you come back, being a veteran, things can be difficult. And anything that my company and this industry can do to help veterans adapt back into society and have housing, it’s exactly what we want to be doing,” said Jason Koperniak.

Another bill in the works “requires landlords to count federal military service member and veteran housing allowances as income for purposes of qualifying for rental housing.

Oakes says both are helpful, but the missing piece is you need to also incorporate case management.

“Just the housing, they’ll just follow the same pattern. They do need that person,” Oakes said.

His idea to create change is to extend debriefing to a two-year minimum and give military employees counseling, ideally with other veterans, and a salary during that time period, right off the bat.

“I believe if we’re going to make a dent, that’s how we have to do it. And I believe we owe that to the veterans,” he said.

Cross was eventually able to get the help he needed and got this housing through Veterans Affairs.

“It’s a blessing to have all the stuff that we have, coming from being homeless. I’m grateful that I can live somewhere in a community that cares for veterans,” said Cross.

But he sits here in tears because he knows that’s not the case for all men and women who served.

“It’s hard. It’s hard for veterans out there and they need help. I’m just emotional because this is an interview. People should listen and try to help them out there,” Cross said.

That’s a message he hopes we remember.