Veterans Homelessness

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Although there has been a decline in homelessness among veterans, it continues to be a problem for that segment of the population.

Ted Simons: Tonight's look at issues involving Arizona veterans focuses on homelessness and what can be done to ease this continuing problem for some of those who served our country. We welcome Shane Groen, director of special projects for the Arizona Coalition To End Homelessness, and John Scott, assistant deputy director at the Arizona department of veterans services. Good to have you both here, thanks for joining us.

John Scott: Thanks for having us.

Ted Simons: The state of the homeless veterans problem. Where are we now?

Shane Groen: So we've established a coordinated entry and assessment system that's pretty comprehensive. We've done I think over 10,000, well over 10,000 but in terms of the veteran population, that's brought our homeless for Arizona. We're working really hard to get a by name list of all the street-living homeless veterans, and then we work them from that list based on their level of vulnerability and we feel like we're very close on that list.

Ted Simons: Aside from those particulars, in general, does it seem like things are getting a little bit better out there?

Shane Groen: Here in Phoenix in Maricopa county, we've made great improvements in reducing the number of homeless veterans on our state and across the country. The state of Virginia has announced that they're at what's called functional zero. We've seen a lot of resources directed towards ending veteran homelessness and there have been direct results.

Ted Simons: Have you seen that as well?

John Scott: I've seen the same thing, as well. It's been a very large collaboration among several different folks, state, local, pooling their resources together to ensure that the veterans are being treated with the utmost respect and dignity and the wrap-around services necessary to maintain housing.

Ted Simons: The typical homeless veteran from what I can research here, male, single, lives in urban areas, and often has some kind of a mental illness. Are we pretty accurate here?

John Scott: It's pretty accurate but I tell folks that when you've met a veteran, you've met a veteran. Every case needs to be taken individually. That's why we try to create individualized plans for veterans that are best going to cater to them what they need for a successful transition to permanent housing and then maintaining that housing.

Ted Simons: In general PTSD, how big a factor?

Shane Groen: Huge. It's huge. Yep. And, you know, PTSD, obviously, if left untreated can lead to many other kind of conditions that will oftentimes result in homelessness for the veteran, you know. Substance abuse and what have you, burning bridges with family and friends, social networks that are critical to maintaining housing if you don't have your own, you're going to rely on those people that you love and so it's a huge factor but I think the V.A. is doing much better job of addressing it.

Ted Simons: It kind of sounds like it starts with PTSD, then maybe moves into substance abuse if nothing is done?

Shane Groen: Very much so.

Ted Simons: That's the avenue there. 45% African-American or Hispanic. That's a big percentage out there.

John Scott: It is. It is. The proportions themselves, you have to look proportionally at the population of Arizona itself but there is an overrepresentation and I don't know if we have a firm idea or grasp as to why that is.

Ted Simons: It sounds like it's younger as well than the total vet population. Is that a little bit of a surprise to you?

John Scott: If you look at the multiple deployments, the severity of some of the PTSD, the acuity and some of the chronic conditions that we're seeing as a part of that, that statistic doesn't surprise me.

Ted Simons: So why do veterans fall into homelessness? What happens out there?

Shane Groen: Well, it's like you mentioned, PTSD and those other factors are a big piece of it but I think that's true for the broader homeless population, as well. And so I think as we address those needs and the V.A. does a better job of addressing those needs, hopefully, we can prevent homelessness from happening for a lot of these guys and girls but I feel like we've done a very good job in terms of trying to get the right resource to the right individual. An initiative that I managed for the last several years through the coalition to end homelessness we've housed over 300 chronically homeless veterans and to your point about, you know, single males, I believe more than 90% of them were single males and so you know, there's a lot of resources out there for families that become homeless and for, you know, female veterans but that's a much smaller percentage of the demographic of the people that we're trying to get resources to.

Ted Simons: And as far as poverty, lack of support networks, these sorts of things. What can be done to help?

John Scott: Sure. As we've kind of moved with our plans to end homelessness we move into prevention. We look at employment as a key factor to retention of housing. Poverty is certainly, an issue. When you have to make a decision between whether or not I'm going to pay to have my car fixed or pay my rent, and that's a decision you have to make to get to work and most of the time the decision is to pay to fix my car, now, I lost my job and I'm back to square one, and now that I'm unable to pay my rent I'm being evicted from my home and I need to look for other housing.

Shane Groen: To John's point there's a severe lack of affordable housing in Arizona, you know. And so that's such a critical piece. I mean, housing ends homelessness and so that's something we're working to address but it's a huge issue.

Ted Simons: I would imagine even those who might have a home if they're underemployed or infrequently employed, dismal living conditions, eventually, you're going to say I'm out of here, I would rather take my chances I would think?

Shane Groen: You see that all the time absolutely.

Ted Simons: So services that seem to work the best. What are you seeing out there?

John Scott: It's got to be a comprehensive approach. There needs to be, if there's mental health factors that need to be addressed on a long-term situation not just a short-term solution. Subsidies for folks who are low-income or living on some form of disability entitlement. We have a lot of veterans living off of very small amounts of money on a monthly basis because of the disabilities that they incurred while they were in the military so finding that adequate housing in areas that are where they want to live.

It's not a one size fits all. There's many interventions for the many different issues that they may be experiencing so you know, not everyone needs a permanent supportive housing voucher, you know. Maybe they just need a really short-term intervention of rent subsidy for three months and they can get back on their feet from there so it's really important that we get the right intervention to the right individual and that's something that we're working on very hard in Maricopa county.

Alright, lots of encouraging news then. Good to have you both here, Appreciate it. n

Shane Groen: Thank you so much for having us.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Shane Groen: director of special projects for Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness; John Scott: Assistant deputy director at the Arizona department of veterans services

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