Cities across the country are finding social and economic benefits from using a housing-first approach toward helping the chronically homeless get permanently off the street. In other words, house them first, then help to stabilize their lives. This approach ends up saving communities money because chronically homeless people make such expensive use of government services.
According to a census taken last January, St. Louis has 100 chronically homeless individuals. Of those, 50 are veterans. So city officials decided to make a big push to house those needy soldiers by offering many of them furnished apartments, free of charge, as part of Operation: REVEILLE.
The money funding the program comes from a $750,000 HUD “rapid rehousing” grant. “They especially need a stable place to start their recovery journey,” Joanne Joseph, homeless program manager for the St. Louis VA, told Jesse Bogan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
On July 30, the 50 homeless vets turned up for a meeting about the program, and each was screened to determine if they qualified for housing. According Bogan, most of the men were between the ages of 50 and 65, but one — 25 year-old Army veteran Esa Murray — “represented the next generation of homeless veterans.”
Murray served in Tikrit, Iraq, but was sent home due to mental disorders. After living in a tent in Indiana with his wife, he made his way to St. Louis after they split up. He hoped to qualify for the new housing program, but his time in the service falls a few months short of the two-year minimum requirement to qualify for an apartment.
Despite this, clinical social worker Toby Jones agreed to admit him to the program. “By the time we are done with him in a year, he should be able to walk away and sustain himself,” Jones told Bogen.
The program has enough funding to house the men for about one year, while caseworkers will help them try to achieve independence. For those who can’t obtain it, there will be continued support. The men are required to participate in services and abide by rules if they want to stay in the sponsored housing.
Near the end of the event, Antoinette Triplett, head of St. Louis’s Homeless Services Division told these often-overlooked veterans something they aren’t used to hearing: “I want to apologize on behalf of our nation that you are veterans and had to be homeless.”