Transitional Housing for Veterans

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.”

Preparing for Winter

The Salvation Army gathers and distributes winter coats and accessories

As winter and winter weather approach, it’s almost time for The Salvation Army and other non-profits to prepare for winter coat and winter accessory season. At The Salvation Army, that means coat and accessory drives, coat closets or racks and coat vouchers for its family stores.

In Bowling Green, KY, The Salvation Army gets coats mainly from individual donations, many of which it solicits through its Facebook page (where last winter it collected 200 in one day). It also has groups holding donation drives, especially as the season goes on.

“With the Facebook page, we’ll put out a note that we need coats, and the community really responses. The great thing about Bowling Green is that we really have a good community that listens to our needs and acts on them,” Social Services Director Heather Gordon said.

One way the Army distributes coats is coat racks it has in the hall near its soup kitchen. It began giving them out in mid-October.

“It’s just there for people who need it,” Gordon said. “We don’t care about the demographics or financial information. It’s basically just if you need a coat, come and get it. We replenish it on a daily basis because we serve 150 to 220 a day in the soup kitchen, and so you can imagine the (number of) people coming in to get the coats.”

There are at least 30 coats on the racks at a time, for ages ranging from small child to adult. About 10 other kids’ coats (including, in the beginning, any left over from the last year’s Angel Tree) are kept in the social services office to give to shelter residents since The Salvation Army has eight family units in Bowling Green.

“If we see someone who we don’t think has the financial means to buy themselves a coat, we’ll tell them we have some to make sure their needs are met,” Gordon said. “But some people are embarrassed to go get a coat off a rack. We don’t want that to be the reason why they’re cold, so if we foresee that to be a problem, we will pull them aside and make sure they get one.”

The Clarksville, TN Salvation Army also works to make sure everyone who needs a coat gets one. It does this with several annual winter clothing drives by churches, the local military post, college sororities and fraternities and a local radio station.

“Last year, we got over 120 coats,” social worker Brian Campbell said. “We had a lot of them donated not just for our residents at the shelter but also people in the community who need them. We opened our chapel one day, and anybody that needed a coat could come in and pick one out.”

He said while the Army always has donation drives, it also gets coats from individual donors, who give both new and used coats, as well as hats, gloves and scarves. Often, though, those are just for residents of the Salvation Army shelter.

In Johnson City, TN, at least one group a year hosts a coat drive. Receptionist Jay Stoneking said this year the Cornerstone Village retirement community began hosting one at the beginning of this month, which will end at the end of November or the beginning of December.

“They basically want to collect new and gently used coats for children and families. They have three locations, where they’re collecting them,” he said, noting that the group held drives in the past, but it’s been a few years, so the people want to restart it.

The Sevierville, TN Salvation Army also received coat drive donations earlier this fall because the local Belk store bringing them just wanted to do that.

“They did a used coat drive right outside their store,” Capt. Sarah Birks said. “We didn’t know they were doing that. They just brought them over one day – a little box full – and said, ‘We did this coat drive.’ It was SO nice of them! We weren’t expecting that at all.”

She said The Salvation Army doesn’t do coat drives because another non-profit there does and also if people need one from The Salvation Army, they will be give a voucher to the family store, where they can pick one out.

The voucher system is also how the Ashland, KY Salvation Army gives clients coats. If it receives any extra, it will first give them to shelter clients before filling orders as needed or using them for the Angel Tree program.

In addition to the coats, The Salvation Army tries to provide as many hats and gloves as it can. In Ashland, many of those come in through the Glove Thy Neighbor program.

“There are several community organizations involved,” Social Services Director Susan Dickens said. “We also have a couple banks, a hospital and some other businesses, as well as other civic organizations like the Kiwanis Club, who bring in donations.”