The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

June 17, 2012

Help available for the homeless


DANVILLE — “It’s not just one specific individual,” said Linda McLaughlin, referring to the women who seek refuge at the transitional shelter located in the Your Family Resource Connection building in Danville.

McLaughlin is the case manager at the shelter, which is run by Crosspoint Human Services. She says the facility is the only transitional women’s shelter in Vermilion County.

McLaughlin said there are certain individuals, however, who are walking through the shelter’s doors more and more: homeless veterans.

For homeless veterans

Jennifer Gerrib is the Homeless Veteran Program Coordinator at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System.

Like McLaughlin, Gerrib also sees a trend. She said the largest growing population of veterans: women and women with children.

“In our program right now, just here in Danville, we’ve got five or six females,” Gerrib said.

For all homeless veterans, though, Gerrib’s program offers numerous resources. The VA’s service area covers 37 counties across Illinois and Indiana.

One service offered by the program is the Housing and Urban Development — Veterans Affairs Supported Housing (HUD-VASH) program.

The HUD-VASH program puts veterans in their own permanent apartments. The housing vouchers also include supportive services and case management. Gerrib said the program houses 50 veterans and has a total of 60 vouchers in Danville.

The VA’s homeless veterans program also offers 25 emergency shelter beds, mental illness contract beds across the state, support groups and more.

Gerrib highly recommended homeless veterans utilize the VA’s national call center. She said an operator is available 24/7 at the hotline: (877) 424-3838.

She added that people who want to help the program can donate used or gently used furniture, sheets, towels, dishes, pots and pans. The program also relies on the community to donate storage space.

For homeless children

Besides seeing an increase in homeless women veterans, Gerrib said she has seen an increase of children coming into the program with their parents. Two years ago, Gerrib’s program saw four children; this year, it has seen 35.

Tricia Keith is the truancy officer and homeless coordinator for Vermilion County. The program is a service of the Regional Office of Education.

Keith said the number of homeless students in kindergarten through 12th grade has skyrocketed.

She said this school year the program has served 373 children, an increase from the 135 students served last year.

Part of that almost 200 percent boost Keith said is due to increased awareness in each district and the ability to recognize more families in need.

“The thought of any child not having a home or not having food to eat, breaks my heart,” Keith said. “And I hope that by us raising awareness in all the schools that that can offer a little stability for the child.”

Keith said every school district in the county has a homeless liaison with whom she works. She said the liaisons try to identify families needing assistance at school registration.

Then her office can provide resources which include food, toiletries and personal items. The program helps children obtain immunizations and assists in the transfer of school and immunization records. It also offers help with transportation to and from school.

Those needing help can call the main line at the Regional Office of Education at 431-2668.

Keith said anyone wanting to help can donate school supplies, underwear and socks, hats, gloves and coats, all preferably in new condition.

Homeless veterans

--When it comes to risk of sheltered homelessness among veterans: "female veterans are at especially high risk of homelessness, and the risk increases considerably if the female veteran is poor."

— 2012 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report.

--About 22 percent of all sheltered homeless people are children under the age of 18. (That is almost 347,000 children.)

— 2012 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report