Homeless Veterans Receive Second Chance
Simmering crock pots fill your nose with the smell of delicious food as you walk into the Salvation Army in Lodi, CA. There is a group of eager Veterans waiting to hear more about how to cook with a crock pot. Everyone has their handouts and pencils ready to take notes. Most look hungry as food is brewing away in nearby crock pots; otherwise the mood is friendly in the room.
The last thought would be that every one of these Veterans was homeless. Thanks to the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and VA Supportive Housing (VASH) program at VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS), these San Joaquin County Veterans were able to get off the streets and into their very own homes. Now they are learning to cook for themselves from a volunteer teacher, who also brought them all brand new crock pots to take home, for free.
"I had been homeless for 16 years," said Melvin James Jr., an Army Veteran attending the cooking class. "If it wasn't for HUD-VASH, I don't know where I would be."
James is not the only thankful Veteran. The room held nearly 20 Veterans who have received help from the HUD-VASH program and came to attend the cooking class coordinated by HUD-VASH social worker, Kate Butler.
"In this economy, anyone can be homeless," said Butler. "HUD-VASH helped all of these Veterans find a place, and I coordinated these classes to give them an opportunity to learn new skills and socialize. Frequently homeless individuals tend to isolate, and activities like this give them an opportunity to interact with others."
Butler is closely connected as she works one-on-one with every homeless Veteran in the program. She is planning more classes for the Veterans such as budget planning and other useful skills they might need for their new homes.
"The program is great. It kind of saved a person's sanity, from scraping day-to-day to having a little extra," said Arthur Baake Jr., an Army Veteran who has been in the program for more than a year. "I was spending everything not to be homeless and you end up eating poorly, too!"
Along with their crock pots, they each received a large pot roast for them to cook themselves. Veterans Service Officer Susan Scott helped pass out the crock pots and drew names to give away groceries donated to the program.
Not only is the program finding homes for homeless Veterans but volunteers have come forth to help furnish the houses and provide any other necessities. In recent efforts, nine homes were furnished with everything from sofas to pots and pans.
"They got all my pots, dishes, and even clothing," said Dwight Nelson, a Navy Veteran who found the program while receiving care at the VA Stockton clinic. "The program gave me the opportunity to be clean and sober, and get my own place. I tell Veterans to come to the VA because they can always get help."
According to HUD's 2009 Point-In-Time homeless count, there are nearly 23,000 homeless individuals in the Bay Area on a given night and about 13 percent are Veterans, with the largest concentration of homeless Veterans in the Santa Clara County.
The HUD-VASH Program is a partnership between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA. Low-income Veterans who are eligible for HUD-VASH receive a specialized Housing Choice Voucher to be used at the rental of their choosing. In addition to the rental subsidy, eligible Veterans also receive ongoing VA services from VA Palo Alto Health Care System. The program currently serves Veterans in the following counties: San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Joaquin, and Southern Alameda County.
If you would like to rent to a HUD-VASH Veteran in your area, or if you would like additional information on the program and rental process, please contact Jose Medina at (650) 814-8733.