SAN ANTONIO – The fight to help our nation’s heroes get off the streets has gotten a big push in the Alamo City with a $2.1 million donation from United Services Automobile Association to the citywide initiative to house homeless veterans.
San Antonio joined a national initiative last January to lower veteran homelessness, dropping the number of homeless veterans from 800 to around 300. The goal now is to house those last 300 by March 21.
"Those are the folks who have issues that have been a little more difficult to address," Mayor Ivy Taylor said.
The veterans are often chronically homeless and many are dealing with substance abuse or legal issues. The new funding will further a program in which formerly homeless vets help counsel currently homeless peers into housing.
"They've been living under a bridge for 7, 8, 9, 10 years. You cannot just fix that right away. You've got to establish some relationships you have to have resources ready," said Travis Pearson, CEO of Family Endeavors, which helps battle homelessness.
Family Endeavors will use some of the money to target newly homeless veterans to prevent them from chronic homelessness. Pearson said that will be possible by improving a "real time" database that's already been established.
"We can plug in a veteran and their various needs or barriers and then immediately we'll know of all the agencies across San Antonio, who has a bed, who has this service and we can get them connected right away," he said.
The challenge will accomplish the goal by the deadline that the agencies set for themselves. Pearson and Taylor both said the goal is attainable.
Taylor encouraged other businesses, faith-based organizations and community members to donate to the cause. She said continued funds will help keep veterans from returning to the streets.
Homeless veteran shares experience
The city’s been working on this goal of housing all veterans here.
Will Rogers was one of the homeless vets, even though he had a job.
“I’ve been in and out of homelessness for some time, for a good 10 years, but I never considered it," said Rogers. "I never thought myself as being homeless because I was what they call sofa surfing, sleeping on someone else’s sofa, staying with a family member, so I always had someone there to assist me so I never really hit rock bottom. But I was dependent upon someone else’s resources instead my own.”
Overall homelessness issue addressed by veteran homelessness
Now he’s an advocate for other veterans to get into programs like Family Endeavors. Bobby Ehrig, a former veteran himself and a program manager at Family Endeavors, said that by addressing homelessness within the veteran community, homeless overall will be given a lot more focus.
“Approximately 18 to 20 percent of the population that is currently homeless on any given day in our county is actually a veteran of the community who has served his country and I think that just by tackling that specific demographic, that we can help reduce homelessness overall because other than freeing up resources and funding for other people or other needs, it also allows the veterans that we service, much like Will, to become another part of society helping to give back to others.”
Can it be done?
Many people ask how all veterans can be housed. Program leaders say they believe it’s possible. But there’s a term called functional zero. That means the programs target vets that want to be helped.
“In terms of functional zero is that we have a plan in mind and that we have the resources in the community to help that individual when he or she does become homeless," said Ignacio Leija is with the American GI Forum in San Antonio. On a daily or a weekly basis, we work with other providers… as these individuals show up on our lists, then it’s up to us and other providers in the community to work with them and to give them the wherewithal, the resources they need to get into housing and a job situation if possible so they will be able to sustain themselves.”
The partnership with USAA, the city and programs around San Antonio aims to eliminate veteran homelessness.