Veteran’s Day is especially meaningful to our CCS/CHS community.
Many of us wore a uniform at one time; some still do. Many more have generational family connections to the armed services. Still more of us have the opportunity to get to know veterans and their families in the course of our daily work. We are grateful for their service, and for the special strength and solidarity they bring to our work as colleagues and clients.
More than ten years ago, the Veteran’s Administration launched an outreach program, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), in a concerted effort to reduce the shocking rate of homelessness among America’s veterans. In recent years, CCS has become a trusted partner; the program has expanded in scope and reach, reducing the wait for HUD permanent housing vouchers for veterans from months or years to a matter of weeks. Nationwide, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness has been cut nearly in half!
While the primary goal of the CCS SSVF programs is rapid rehousing of very low-income vets, CCS caseworkers engage with the VA and many other state and local entities to ensure that veteran clients and families receive all the financial, medical, mental health and social support they need to successfully transition and thrive in permanent housing.
One such program in King County is Michael’s Place, an 18-bed transitional residence for vets who are homeless and in recovery from addiction and/or diagnosed with mental health problems. Program Manager Kevin Hamel, an Air Force vet himself, oversees an all-veteran staff of four. “Nobody can talk to a vet like another vet,” says former resident and combat infantry vet Jason. “We do learn from each other here, more than we ever will from the VA. We’ve got to find it out ourselves. We vets help each other. This is a good place for that. And the staff are very educated in where we need to get to in order to succeed.”
According to Jason, the VA and Veteran’s Court saved him from a suicidal spiral of PTSD and IV drug addiction, but six weeks at Michael’s Place gave him the time and space to find his feet. Independently housed since leaving Michael’s Place in August of 2021, Jason is now the program manager for MVP/Merging Vets and Players, a nonprofit, located in Renton.
“If you want the help, this is where you can get it,” says Paul, a current resident, a former MP and bounty hunter, who has just received a voucher for his own apartment. He found Michael’s Place after a few years of rapidly declining health. “I had gotten to the place with 35% heart function where I was sleeping in a ditch next to the highway. I knew I wouldn’t make it through the winter. I’m happy to be here– and happy to be on my way so another vet can move in and get help.”
CCS SSVF helps families, too!
Jennifer Mellema, SSVF case manager at the SW Family Housing Network, recalls the story of Kevin, a veteran being assisted by a local tribe. As the surviving parent to his two children, he had run out of resources. The day the family was forced to leave a residential hotel, SSVF was able to relocate them to another hotel and, after surmounting numerous barriers, get them housed within a month. SSVF arranged for furnishings, dental care for the family, and support for more intensive behavioral health services with the VA. “This is one of the stories I am excited about,” says Jennifer. “Just seeing the children happy and doing well in school touches my heartstrings! I believe that as Kevin continues his care at the VA, this family will continue to grow together.”
A Prayer for Veteran’s Day
Lord God, Almighty Father, creator of humanity and author of peace, as we are ever mindful of the cost paid for the liberty we possess, we ask you to bless the members of our armed forces. Give them courage, hope, and strength. May they ever experience your firm support, gentle love, and compassionate healing. Be their power and protector, leading them from darkness to light. To you be all glory, honor, and praise, now and forever. Amen.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2021