I'm moving into an apartment on Monday.
This past week I finally had my interviews with the VA homeless program coordinator and the director at Porchlight, who is the local homeless services organization. I'm eligible for transitional housing, and I'm moving into a small apartment building that is part of the Grant and Per Diem program. More information is available here:
The maximum length of the program is two years, and I'm eligible while I'm in college. Meals are a part of the program, as is access to an onsite case worker and a veteran peer support specialist plus my normal treatment options at the VA hospital. Rent is based on income. All of the residents in the building are veterans, and I am happy to report that interservice rivalries are still in effect ("Air Farce? Look who's talkin, swabbie...")
There are requirements. Being clean and sober is at the top of the list. There are house meetings, and announced room inspections. I have to sign in, every day. If I don't sign in, someone will start looking for me. No guests after 2200. Nothing really restrictive, but it is still a managed (and supportive) environment. One aspect of the program is setting goals for recovery, which includes setting up a plan to settle accounts with past landlords. There's also help for filing disability claims with the VA, and obtaining assistance from other programs.
The apartment building is one I've walked past many times; it's about two blocks east of my most recent apartment and so it's still close to classes and work. I honestly don't know how I managed to find a program like this, that gives me a place to live without even changing neighborhoods. If there's such a thing as meant to be, this might be it. Moving in will end 2 1/2 months of me being homeless and sleeping in my car, or on some nights not sleeping at all.
So I'll have more to write about my living situation, but at least it will be stable.
A note about the process I've been through to get here. Everyone at the VA hospital in the Mental Health clinic as well as Social Work bent over backwards to help once they knew I was facing being homeless, and once I really was. They want to help, and me getting into a managed program and a place to live wouldn't be possible without them.
The process, though, started with me.
When I first knew I might be evicted from my last apartment, I talked to my therapist who referred me to social work. Social work tried to find a way for me to catch up on rent. There weren't funds available for the amount I needed, but social work did set me up with a shopping basket full of food when I didn't have any money. More recently, social work helped me get the referral to Porchlight that I needed.
They actually wanted to come out to where I was sleeping to check on me, and see if I needed anything. A five story parking structure is a big place, and they had trouble finding me. Important thing is, they tried.
I had to go to Porchlight to get the application, and I had to fill it out. The application asked for references from the last places I'd lived, which wasn't easy for me to bring back up. I also had to keep in contact with Porchlight, since I was on a waiting list.
Then I had to keep myself alive and out of trouble until an apartment opened up. One of the things about this (and many other programs) is that you have to be clean and sober. I'm a small minority among homeless veterans. Most of us have substance or alcohol abuse issues, and that's often what lands us in trouble. The VA will help you clean up so you can get to where I am, but you have to go to the hospital or the Vet Center and make the initial request (or cry) for help.
There are far, far too many homeless veterans.
The VA is trying to help us, but we have to be willing to work to face ourselves so we can let them help. It's not enough to have a shelter to sleep in. That helps, certainly, but it's a band-aid fix.
That's not a solution, and I wish I had one.
One veteran at a time, and in this case the veteran is me.
And I am grateful as always for the country I served, because in the end I wouldn't still be here without the VA's help.