by Melanie Goldman, LCSW
VA Homeless/CWT Program Manager
I learned almost everything about caring for veterans from the community. I have training from the VA, but it has always been the kindness and compassion of strangers that has taught me the most. That is why the Zero: 2016 initiative means so much to me, the VA and the brave, disadvantaged veterans in Tulsa.
In my 15 years as a Department of Veteran’s Affairs program manager for eastern Oklahoma, I have seen a drastic increase in the care and effort directed toward our veterans. When I started, I was the only person working in my division, which helps in-need veterans find homes and jobs. Now there are 21. That increase not only reflects the great and growing need in Tulsa, but also Tulsa’s great and growing desire to help.
I see the struggle of veterans each day. I know they need the support, stability and comfort of a home to overcome the obstacles that led to homelessness in the first place. The Zero: 2016 initiative calls for a housing-first method to end veteran homelessness. The housing-first method starts before the veteran has a home. The VA first assists him or her through the Section 8 housing application process. Then, not only does the VA help the veteran find a home, but the organization is also with the veteran step-by-step while he or she gets a job and learns how to sustain this new lifestyle.
If you need a reason why housing-first is the best method to end homelessness, think of how you afford your own home. You were free to choose the profession that supports your livelihood. These men and women experiencing homelessness fought for the freedom of others and for your freedom, too. Veterans deserve to be given a second chance, and I believe that starts with this very basic need of housing.
Through vouchers from the federal program for Housing and Urban Development, we place homeless veterans in Section 8 housing. Once a roof is over a person’s head, the VA assigns a case manager to him or her. This case manager helps the veteran maintain and keep their home and dignity. Rehousing a veteran is a collaborative effort, which is why it is so effective. The Zero: 2016 process takes a former soldier off the streets and puts him or her on the road to recovery. Is there anything more powerful or meaningful than that?
Zero: 2016 has been a success in Tulsa. The goal is within our reach. That is something I think we can all be proud of.