Catholic Charities provides assistance to homeless vets and their families
By Pat Shea
Sun associate editor
Home. It’s a word many veterans focused on to get them through their tours of duty. But once discharged, some veterans living in the Diocese of Syracuse discovered that for them, the word home quickly changed to homeless.
“Veteran homelessness is an ongoing problem,” stated Melissa Carbonaro, program manager for Catholic Charities Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program in Onondaga County. “That’s why the SSVF program is dealing with it, addressing it and giving it the attention this problem needs. With the number of people coming home from service and the economical, physical and emotional issues that surround their return, finding a home has become more and more of an obstacle.”
Why are veterans so vulnerable to homelessness? According to Carbonaro, it may be due to lack of preparation. “For an active duty soldier, housing is part of their pay and they never had to worry about their housing needs or utility costs because they were all taken care of along with their food, employment and clothing. Once they leave the military, many discharged veterans have trouble finding employment and budgeting their money without the military structure to which they’ve become accustomed. There could also be specific reasons why they can’t secure employment such as needing specific job skill training, a physical disability or they could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, making it very difficult for them to find and keep a job. If that happens, they can end up unable to pay their rent and can find themselves homeless or facing homelessness.”
The Catholic Charities SSVF program began in October 2012 as part of a nationwide effort designed to promote housing for veterans experiencing homelessness or those that were “housing vulnerable” or in danger of becoming homeless. By the end of its first year, which ends September 2013, the Catholic Charities SSVF program is expected to have assisted over 100 veteran families.
Funding for the first year of the program was provided through a Veterans Administration grant of $291,048. For the program’s second year, which begins October 2013, a new grant of $589,096 to Catholic Charities will go to help provide housing assistance to a minimum of 200 veteran families.
To qualify for assistance, an applicant must have served at least one full day in active service to the military. “There are circumstances in which a veteran can’t get benefits from the military, such as for an ‘other than honorable discharge’,” explained Carbonaro. “We [the Catholic Charities SSVF program] can work with all veterans except those who have a ‘dishonorable discharge,’ who meet the program’s criteria.”
The SSVF team is made up of three caseworkers, a program coordinator and Carbonaro, the program manager. Two of the three caseworkers are veterans. “We are thrilled to be able to hire veterans and look forward to hiring additional veterans in the future,” stated Carbonaro.
Presently, the SSVF assistance is only available to veterans in Onondaga County, but Carbonaro states she is looking forward to expanding. “I am not opposed to working with other Catholic Charities locations but our work here in Onondaga is still likely to continue as long as there is a need here. Ideally, as we like to say, ‘we would all like to work ourselves out of a job.’”
For more information about Catholic Charities’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families, visit www.ccoc.us and/or www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.