HOMELESS VETERANS REINTEGRATION PROGRAM HELPS VETS STRUGGLING TO TRANSITION TO CIVILIAN LIFE & WORK
Nearly one in four 18- to 24-year-old veterans were out of work in May, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, as So Cal service providers scramble for funds to help
by Matthew Fleischer
This past Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced that her department was awarding 64 grants, totaling $15 million dollars, to help provide job training to homeless veterans across America, under the banner of the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. “No veteran should have to go to sleep in their car or under a bridge,” she said to a group reporters on Tuesday morning, estimating that these grants would help 8,600 homeless veterans find work.
Seven providers in LA, Orange and San Diego Counties were given grants ranging from $277,796 to $300,000. The news was met with a huge sigh of relief from Southland HVRP service providers, who were sweating out the grant process, given the current political climate of austerity fetishism.
“The English call it ‘squeaky-bum time,’” Karl Calhoun of Volunteers of America, Los Angeles says of the hyper-tense moments before his organization received an official notice of renewal on its previous three-year $300,000 grant “We’ve been renewed a few times, but you can’t take these things for granted. Not in this economic climate.”
VoALA gives job training and placement assistance to 150-200 homeless veterans and veterans under “imminent threat of homelessness” annually. Those under “imminent threat” weren’t always eligible for HVRP services, but Calhoun tells me the feds have come around in recognizing the necessity. “It’s absurd to wait until a guy is on the street to provide him services.”
Calhoun cites the recent example of a VoALA client who lost a painting job after his union contract expired. The vet looked for work for months with no success, and was about to be evicted from his apartment when he finally came to VoALA looking for job placement help. VoALA was able to find him work painting massive storage drums at an oil refinery—dangerous work perfectly fitted for the adrenaline-accustomed veteran.
“He was close to being on the street. Now he makes $37 an hour,” says Calhoun. “Suffice it to say, he can pay his rent.”
Success stories like this can be difficult to come by. While the majority of military vets are diligent, hard-working, and highly skilled, their training frequently doesn’t do them much good in civilian life.
“They have discipline that far exceeds what civilians bring to the table,” says Calhoun. “But the skills they’ve learned often don’t translate to the commercial world. Knowing how to fix a tank, for instance, under severe time restraints in a hostile environment, is impressive, but not necessarily useful to potential employers when vets are applying for jobs back home.”
That gap between military training and commercial usefulness is exactly where these grants are aimed. The number of vets who need help in bridging that gap it daunting, particularly in the Southland.
According to statistics from the California Department of Veterans Affairs, 8.7 percent of all veterans in the United States live in California, with the vast majority–nearly a million–in the Southern California. As of 2010 there were 346,000 veterans living in Los Angeles County and another 234,000 living in San Diego County alone, numbers that will increase as American service people continue to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There’s no exact count for the number of homeless vets in the region, but the common estimate is that more than 8,000 Los Angeles veterans are homeless. Thousands more are at-risk, due to the effects of PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, as well as the current economic malaise that has swept over the country for the past four years.
“The recovery is sputtering at best,” says Calhoun. “I think employers are willing to hire, but they’re gun-shy. They’re waiting to see what happens with the election and the economy.”
But that doesn’t mean veterans are completely out of options.
“We’ve steered plenty of our clients towards the G.I. Bill,” says Calhoun. “They were living on the street. Once they learn how to access the provisions of the bill, they get the equivalent of around $15 an hour to complete their studies.”
A little bit of guidance can go a long way.
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images.