Volusia and Flagler Counties in Daytona Beach, Florida announced last year that the homeless veteran population is officially at what the government terms “functional zero.”
According to social services director Anthony Deobil, the terms are defined as no more than four homeless vets in Flagler County at any given time and no more than 24 in Volusia County. The Supportive Services for Veteran Families program has allowed Daytona Beach to declare an end to homelessness among vets.
Federal funding started three years ago to fund an aggressive push to end homelessness among veterans nationwide by 2015. While the national goal wasn’t met, Deobil said The Salvation Army in Daytona Beach has been able to hold to it.
Through the Housing First, Rapid Rehousing program, Deobil said the veterans they encounter who are homeless are placed in some type of temporary housing within 48 hours and permanent housing within 21 days. “Housing is step one. But then we have to make sure that they have the skills and abilities to survive on their own so it might mean helping them find a job, getting them to mental health or medical services, assisting them with getting on social security, disability or VA benefits.” Deobil said the federal grants they’re administering to conduct the program have been a game changer.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs gives the Daytona program a “surge” grant of $1 million per year for three years and the SSVF grant, $410,000 renewable annually.
“For the first time we got the money and talent we needed and with all those things together, we’ve been able to take these vets off the street and not just put them into an apartment – we are watching miracles every day,” he said.
Those miracles start with an encounter with the two-person outreach team. Deobil said the outreach team members were once homeless vets themselves, so they’re able to build a rapport of mutual understanding with the vets they meet on the street, at soup kitchens or in homeless camps. Once they check to make sure the person is indeed a veteran and that he or she meets the SSVF program’s eligibility requirements, the person is brought into either an emergency shelter, the Daytona Beach veteran’s transitional housing or, if there are no available beds, a hotel room for up to 30 days.
While there, they’re assessed to help identify any barriers to self-sufficiency. One of the six caseworkers devoted just to the SSVF program is a housing specialist who connects with local landlords. The Salvation Army pays for the rental until the veteran is self-supporting, usually within three months, although some have been in the program for as much as nine months.
They help the veterans connect with the VA for any disability or veteran’s benefits, medical or legal services, drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs if needed, and help them find skilled work according to the assessments they complete. One of their success stories had been the “local homeless vet” that everyone around town knew and never thought he’d escape the streets. He had an alcohol addiction and was homeless for 20 years. But he’s been in a rehabilitation program for nine months and, in addition to his VA benefits, he’s able to collect an income because he bought a lawnmower and started his own lawn care business in the neighborhood where The Salvation Army helped him settle.
One of the hallmarks of the program, according to Deobil, is how much they walk a veteran through even the most basic requirements of sustainability. Once a vet is placed in an apartment, the SSVF team meets him or her there with a host of cleaning supplies. Deobil said it’s not because the apartments need cleaning; they’ve been prepped already by the landlord. But they host a cleaning party so that they can help him re-learn how to clean if he needs to. And after being in the apartment for a month, staff members show up with cookie baking supplies and they make cookies together. During that time, the vet’s ability to cook and provide meals for his or her family is assessed.
The Daytona Beach Area Command can then help them get any training they need through the classes they offer – cooking, budgeting, cleaning, etc. To date, 830 households have been helped, which translates to about 1,500 people, including the veterans’ spouses and/or children. The stabilization rate is 97 percent, so Deobil feels that the impact is definitely long-term.
“Years ago in social services if we met a homeless person we used to say first we have to help them with their issues; then when they’re stable enough, we can put them into their own house. Now it’s different; we know if we take somebody off the street and put them into an apartment and we start speaking hope back into their life, they begin to change their attitude and all of a sudden they start wanting to change and they want help,” he said.
Some of the vets they help are asked to volunteer with the Battle Buddies program. It allows vets to give back to other vets escaping homelessness, and it lets the case management staff know that the vets they help are still self-sufficient and in stable housing.
One of Deobil’s favorite success stories is a veteran who was considered the problem vet. He was resistant to change, complained frequently about the caseworkers and didn’t want to do what was asked of him. About two weeks after he was placed, the vet came to see Deobil.
“Quite frankly, I thought he was going to complain about something. He held a key up and said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s the key to the apartment,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s much more.’ He said, ‘If it rains tonight, my stuff’s not going to get wet, nobody’s going to steal my stuff because it’s locked in my apartment and if someone writes me a letter, it is going to come to me because my name is on the mailbox. This key means I’m somebody again.’ It’s a powerful story; this program is so life changing.”