BY MARY WICOFF
Local officials are excited about an increase in funding to help homeless and at-risk veterans, beginning in October.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced recently more than $8.5 million in homeless prevention grants will go to organizations across Illinois. The grants will serve more than 2,400 Illinois homeless and at-risk veteran families as part of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program.
Locally, this award will assist veterans’ families associated with the Salvation Army, which will serve about 300 participant households in central Illinois.
Jennifer Valade, social services director for the Champaign Salvation Army, said the program is receiving $787,563 right now. With the increase in October, that amount will jump to $1,582,000 for central Illinois.
The increase also means that three more Salvation Army offices will be involved; three are participating right now, including Vermilion County’s.
Valade wrote the grant for the area, and the Champaign Salvation Army will oversee the others Salvation Army offices.
“We applied for a renewal grant and requested additional funding to expand to more of Illinois,” she said, adding that the coverage will expand to Springfield, Peoria and Bloomington.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” she said.
Jennifer Gerrib, coordinator of the homeless veteran program at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, agreed, saying, “It’s a great thing. It will help our program. It will help out immensely.”
It will help all veterans within the Illiana System’s catchment area, except those in Lafayette, Ind., she said.
The Salvation Army can help in areas not covered by the VA’s homeless program, such as help with rent, utilities and bills, Gerrib said.
Community-based groups can offer temporary financial assistance on behalf of veterans for rent payments, utility payments, security deposits and moving costs.
Valade said, “The funding is meant to help families and veterans, to prevent them from becoming homeless or help them get re-housed.”
The renewed grant will increase the amount of money available to help the veterans, as well as the number of months for rental assistance.
Valade had projected that the program would help 150 households by Oct. 12; however, that number was reached within the first seven months. She now expects to help 250 families by the end of September.
Under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, VA is awarding grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that provide services to very low-income veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing.
Those community organizations provide a range of services that promote housing stability among eligible veteran families.
Shinseki said in a news release that, thanks to the grants, those community organizations will provide a range of services that promote housing stability and play a key role in connecting veterans and their family members to VA services, such as mental health care and other benefits.
This is the program’s third year. Last year, VA provided about $100 million to assist about 50,000 veterans and family members.
In 2009, President Obama and Shinseki announced the federal government’s goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015. The grants are intended to help accomplish that goal. According to the 2012 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness, homelessness among veterans has declined 17.2 percent since 2009.
“All of this is a step toward this,” Valade said. “We’re on our way.”
More information about VA’s homeless programs is available at http://www.va.gov/homeless.
Details about the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program are online at www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.
Veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, their family members and friends may call VA’s National Homeless Veterans Call Center at (877) 424-3838. The hotline is always open.