Louisville program helps vets find their footing and a permanent home
The Louisville Salvation Army is one of just a few in Kentucky and Tennessee that has a program for veterans. Its Transitional Housing Veterans Program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
The end goal of the program is to find housing for homeless veterans. To help along the way, The Salvation Army also works with the vets on budgeting and finance, as well as activities and classes that help spirituality and supplement the mental and physical help they get from the VA.
Johanna Wint, director of the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope, which houses the veterans program, said the program is a holistic one, dealing with the mind, body and spirit.
It helps veterans with physical and mental problems mainly by getting them their VA benefits. Clients also receive wellness education and acute care through a clinic run by the Harambee Health Center that comes to the Center of Hope a few times a week. Plus, they can attend nutrition classes taught by a University of Kentucky professor and, if needed, addiction relapse prevention programs (like AA and NA).
For spirituality, a chaplain comes for a weekly Bible study, and the veterans can also go to The Salvation Army worship services and religious programs held in the Center of Hope. Also, Tai Chi is offered once a week, which helps veterans spiritually, as well as physically and with some mental and emotional problems.
Veteran can stay in the program for up to two years, but most stay for six to nine months before they find a permanent home. There are 28 beds, which are almost always full. In fact, there’s a waiting list, as well as two overflow beds, which are used when one client is preparing to transition to his new home and another is preparing to move into The Salvation Army.
“I can house two clients who are ready to go to the program for up to two weeks there,” said caseworker Roger Noe, who was able to start the overflow space about seven months ago. “It’s getting them off the streets and somewhere safe. They come down and watch TV and hang out with our veterans and eat with them and kind of feel like they are part of something.”
When it comes to finding a permanent home, The Salvation Army helps in a number of ways, including assisting clients with receiving housing vouchers (through HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, Volunteers of America and Phoenix Helps) to help pay part or all of the rent, as well as a portion of the utilities.
During the actual search, the caseworkers connect with landlords they know to find suitable and affordable places and also give clients driving assistance or directions. Once a client has found a house or apartment, The Salvation Army pays the first month’s rent and deposit.
Plus, when clients are ready to move out, The Salvation Army refers them to a local church organization called God’s Designs that provides used furniture. It also takes them to Walmart and spends approximately $250 on a “move out box” that includes pantry staples, some pots and pans, sheets and towels.
“It’s so they don’t have to spend all their money when they first move in to a home,” Wint said. “We’re trying to get them set up and help them be successful, not setting them up for failure.”
In addition to helping veterans with housing, The Salvation Army works with them on resolving old bills and creating a budget. There’s a weekly budget class taught by the Kentucky Telco Credit Union, and Noe and the other caseworker, Emily Rodeheffer, also lead exercises where the veterans find permanent housing and weekly groceries that will fit within their budgets.
A last important part of the program is to engage the veterans in the world. Activities for them include golf lessons at Fort Knox, dinner cruises on the Belle of Louisville, University of Louisville football and basketball and Louisville Bats baseball games, movie trips, barbecues (including the recent Halloween one with brats and Italian sausages), workouts at St. Stephens’ gym (where The Salvation Army provides memberships) and classes at the public library.
“For those who don’t have any transportation, we provide bus passes, so they can travel anywhere they need to go,” Wint said.
“We’re always looking for something to do with them to make them feel better about themselves,” Noe said. “If we can make a person feel better about themselves, then they will work harder towards a goal they have set.”
This year, the Transitional Housing Veterans Program was evaluated by representatives for the Salvation Army’s Southern Territory (one of four national divisions) to see its various facets and rate its success. After the evaluation in September, the program was awarded a Gold Star accreditation.
“It was probably one of the best things that could have happened to us here,” said Wint. “The two best things that came of it were learning what the Army expects of us/how we can become a better program and the teamwork it created because every department in the building helped.”
The evaluation, which Wint and her co-workers learned of in late April and then had time to prepare for, explored eight areas: the program’s services, pastoral care, personnel, organization governance and administration, community partners, finance and contracts, safety and risk management and the condition of the building.
Among the people the representatives spoke to were Major Roy Williams and two board members (for organization governance), Noe and Rodeheffer (service), Lts. Justo and Sara Orozco (pastoral care), Jamie Watts of the Veterans Administration and Natalie Harris of Louisville’s Coalition for the Homeless (community partners) and Wint.
Additionally, they thoroughly reviewed the program’s services, from how clients are obtained and processed at intake to the length of their stay and activities they do to their exit process and the number of clients put into permanent housing. On top of that, the representatives examined billing procedures and contracts, went through personnel files and checked the building both to see if there were any safety and risk management problems and whether it was clean, well-maintained and properly inspected.
Wint is both very pleased with the evaluation and extremely proud of the program. Still, she’s not one to rest on her laurels. She mentioned that the Center of Hope is looking to expand and improve.
“We won’t be able to expand the number of people [staying there], but we are looking to continue to expand our education and classes to prepare them for living on their own,” she said. “If we do a good job of stabilizing them and preparing them to be successful while they’re here, then when they get out, we feel they can do well.”