PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — On any given night in Hampton Roads you can find about 200 homeless veterans in shelters or on the streets. This all happens as Virginia continues to tout it has effectively ended veteran homelessness in the state.
Then Governor Terry McAuliffe made a big announcement in 2015 that Virginia had effectively ended veteran homelessness.
Driving around our cities however, you can see people standing on street corners with signs that read “homeless veteran needs help.”
10 On Your Side wondered, what’s going on? So we visited one of the area’s largest homeless shelters and the Hampton VA to find answers.
Joseph Barrett was living in his car when he came to the Union Mission. “I don’t want to be homeless anymore … I just have to do,” he said.
Barrett is one of 50 to 60 veterans the mission houses every night, according to spokeswoman Linda Jones.
“We have not seen a decrease, definitely not,” Jones said.
Jones said the number hasn’t changed in a decade. “They don’t really know where to go, they don’t know what to do, so they end up on the street and then they end up here.”
Allen Suggs, another homeless veteran at the Union Mission, said, “The military, they want you to serve your country but they don’t go out on a limb and tell you what services you have.”
Suggs served as a tanker operator in the Army, but he says it doesn’t transfer well in the civilian world. “I try to keep me a job, I love to work, this is a hard working man right here.”
Neither Suggs nor Barrett knew anything about veterans benefits that could help get them off the street until they ended up at the Union Mission.
It’s that way with most veterans there, Jones said. “I don’t know if its the veteran administration or the military or the combination of the two but someone needs to tell these military men and women when they get out of the military what options are open to them.”
10 On Your Side took their concerns to the VA in Hampton, where homeless coordinator Marti Chick-Ebey admits getting the word out about services is a challenge, but she said, “If you become homeless and you’re a veteran and you want help there is a way to get housed within an average of 90 days.”
Chick-Ebey explained that almost no one getting out of the military thinks they’ll end up homeless. So they don’t pay attention to that kind of information when they are separating.
Workers and volunteers do street outreach and the VA really counts on cities and non-profits like the Union Mission for referrals.
“I think its all of our jobs and I think the cities are doing better with it, Virginia Beach they have the new homeless resource center, Newport News just opened a new daycenter, (Four Oaks Day Service Center,” Chick-Ebey said.
Their efforts appear to be working. At the last official “point in time” count (which is taken once a year in January) there were 201 homeless veterans in the Greater Hampton Roads area, which includes parts of northeast North Carolina. That number, Chic-Ebey told WAVY.com, is way down from the year 2011. — down 70 percent for veterans overall and 48 percent among the chronically homeless.
Virginia Beach Homeless Service System Manager Pamela Shine also provided 10 On Your Side with this proof in numbers of the success that city is having with reducing veteran homelessness:
Point In Time Veteran Count: (This is done once a year on one night in January and includes all those in shelters or on the streets)
2015 – 58
2016 – 40
2017 – 38
2018 – 33
2015 – 66
2016 – 50
2017 – 52
2018 – 43
Prioritization List 2017: 122 veteran households connected to the system
Prioritization List 2018: 184 veteran household connected to the system
Since 2015 Virginia Beach has housed more than 300 veteran households.
Chick-Ebey credits a number of programs for success throught the region, including something called Vash vouchers.
Those combine Housing and Urban Development money for housing with supportive services through the VA.
There are currently more then 700 local vets using those vouchers. Chick-Ebey said there’s no waiting list for those who qualify for those vouchers. Others like Barrett and Suggs are utilizing other vet programs to get back on their feet.
Even so, those who work with the homeless do not think there could ever be a complete end to veteran homelessness because there are so many reasons people end up on the streets, and some may not accept help.
So not only is it accurate to say Virgina has met the government definiton of a “functional end to homelessness,” the commonwealth actually has the lowest number of homeless vets per capita in the country.