City initiative seeks to reduce veteran homelessness


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By Assistant Metro Editor

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a partnership on Sept. 16 between several city, state and federal agencies to combat homelessness among Chicago veterans.

The mayor’s office, the state Department of Family and Support Services, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Chicago Housing Authority said they aim to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.

“No one who has fought to defend their country should struggle to find a home,” Emanuel said in a Sept. 16 statement. “We will keep faith with our veterans by making the investments needed to ensure that no veteran remains homeless in Chicago.”

The federal government will provide 80 percent of the $5 million per year needed for subsidized housing and supportive services for veterans in Chicago, according to the press release. The city will contribute more than $800,000 to the grants from federal funding to provide housing for the homeless.

Some veterans in Chicago applauded the announcement when they were informed of the proposal.  However, some said the goal of ending veteran homelessness by next year seems unattainable.

Veteran Joseph Bradley, 55, grew up on Chicago’s West Side. He said he enlisted in the Navy at age 17 because he grew up in an abusive home and wanted to break free. He was homeless when he enlisted and his only option was to return home or live on the streets when he got out of the Navy, which resulted in Bradley becoming homeless again.

Bradley said he eventually applied for educational benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs and went to school full-time. Today, Bradley is a housing case manager for a nonprofit organization on Chicago’s South Side that helps the homeless find housing.

“With the two previous wars, there’s a lot of homeless [veterans] because of their post-traumatic stress,” Bradley said. “Families probably don’t want them there because they don’t trust them.”

Frank Mendez, a 51-year-old homeless veteran from Lincoln Park, said some veterans suffer from depression, relationship issues and other problems that make it difficult to cope.

“I guess some of them come back depressed or [their] relationships haven’t worked out because they were gone [so] long,” Mendez said. “I don’t know. It’s hard to tell because every person has their own problem like I had mine.”

Jackie Edens is the executive director of Inner Voice, a nonprofit organization that aims to  help the homeless become self-sufficient. The agency has provided shelter, food and clothing to hundreds of adults and children across Chicago for more than 30 years. Edens said she thinks it is a great idea that the mayor and other organizations are coming together to try to end veteran homelessness.

“Our agency is all about homeless services and has been for 30 years,” Edens said. “So I think that the collaboration is great. No one can criticize that.”

Edens said it is going to take longer than a year to get all homeless veterans off the streets because resources and funding need to be available for this plan to  successfully end homelessness. 

“First of all, everybody has to deliver on their promises relating to funding,” Edens said. “Everybody looks at this homeless funding like a water balloon; they squeeze it from one end to get money infused at the other end, and it’s not a good strategy. There has to be the political will to put your money where your mouth is. Realistically by 2015, I don’t see it happening.”

According to the Sept. 16 press release, Evelyn Diaz, commissioner 

of the Department of Family and Supportive Services, said it is possible to end veteran homelessness by 2015 if the city works with the local and federal government.

“By working collaboratively with federal and local partners, the president’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 is doable here in Chicago,” Diaz said.

Mendez said employees at Veterans Affairs did everything they could to help him and that he has not been homeless for long. He has been living under a viaduct at Fullerton and Western avenues for three weeks and was planning to move to South Carolina with his children last week. However, Mendez said the city has to do very little to help homeless veterans.

“As long as they get them off the street and into some housing, fed and well clothed, what else can you ask for?” Mendez said.

It will be extremely difficult to end homelessness among veterans if poverty continues, if there is a lack of resources and if the United States continues to engage in wars, Edens said.

“We have to stop having wars where we subject men and women to unspeakable conditions to the point where they come home and they are so dysfunctional that they have difficulties finding a place to live,” Edens said.  

The challenge is larger than finding available or affordable apartments, Edens said, adding that war causes damage that is not easily  undoable both in terms of housing and supportive services. Edens said that the local, state and federal governments should make sure to stick to their word and provide available housing options immediately to veterans returning from war.

Mendez said he is glad that the process has begun and said he feels relieved that the city of Chicago will finally do something about ending homelessness among veterans.

“I’m glad they’re finally doing something,” Mendez said, “It’ll be nice to see my brothers off the street by 2015. I wish it could be sooner, but it is what it is.”