Vietnam veteran David Colon was left homeless after his uncle suddenly sold the trailer they shared.
“One of his daughters called me on the 28th and told me he’d sold the trailer and that we had to be out by the 1st,” he said.
Colon had no idea what he was going to do until people in his sleep-deprivation class told him about the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program.
A case manager at Goodwill was able to get him into an apartment in a matter of weeks.
“I would still be homeless if it wasn't for this program,” Colon said.
Supportive Services for Veteran Families is a homeless prevention, rapid rehousing grant that Goodwill was awarded from Veterans Affairs. Under terms of the grant, Goodwill is expected to serve 500 veteran families by Sept. 1. So far, the agency has helped 138.
“It's designed to prevent homelessness among very low-income veteran families,” said Jerry Helton, the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program manager for Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma.
Helton said the program takes a housing-first approach.
“Whenever I started with Goodwill, I felt like housing-first was counterintuitive. I felt like you should have the means to support yourself before you moved into a home, but the Veterans Administration has had a lot of success with it,” Helton said.
“There's been a lot of research within the homeless community that shows that the housing-first model is actually very effective. As you start supplying a person with the things they need, they start pursuing the means to maintain those things.”
The program helps families pay for rent, car repairs and child care and provides services such as landlord mediation, housing barrier assessment and rental agreement education.
Working with partners
To help ensure the program's success, Goodwill partnered with organizations that have experience with homelessness, such as Heartland 211, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Volunteers of America, the Homeless Alliance, City Rescue Mission and Upward Transitions.
Heartland 211 offers screening and centralized intake for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Each caller to the 211 line is asked if there's a veteran in the home. Prospects for the program are referred to a case manager.
“Since October 1st, we have referred 132 households to SSVF case management,” said Kelly Rogers, veterans support services coordinator for Heartland 211. “Each month our numbers continue to grow as people learn more about our program and call 211 for screening.”
Rogers said she works hard to find solutions for veteran families, even if they don't meet the criteria of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families.
“We want to help our vets who are in trouble,” said Helton, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. “It's an honor for us to have this grant and be able to help the veteran population in Oklahoma City.”