February 3, 2010

Hope for homeless vets in Seattle – a government, nonprofit and private collaboration

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There are a lot of homeless people living in cars or camping out under overpasses in Lake City. So many that the Seattle neighborhood has its own task force on homelessness. But this is a task force that helps turn words into action.

rita_hibbardwebJohn, a Vietnam veteran who lived on the streets of Lake City for 15 years, says it’s “scary” to move into his own apartment.  He hopes he will find camaraderie in his new apartment building where 38 of the 75 units are reserved for homeless vets.

“The thing is to have people become a family here and not 75 individuals,” John told Keith Ervin of The Seattle Times. “It’s important that people watch out for each other.”

John’s sentiments remind me of Stan, who I met outside the Seattle Center last weekend after attending a session on homelessness at the Guiding Lights weekend conference. The session, presented by Bill Block, project director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, volunteer and author Judy Lightfoot and homeless advocate Joe Ingram, highlighted the number of homeless people in Seattle and King County, and how we as individuals can relate to them person-to-person. What Stan said was this: he’d lived on the streets a long time, and while it could be a cold and hard place, he wasn’t quite sure if he’d move into a home with walls if one could be found.

Joe, who had been on the streets a long time before becoming an outreach worker, introduced me to Stan and explained that coming in from the cold is part of the difficult process for some homeless people. It’s not  all of the problem. Many homeless people would welcome a home. Like John, many long term homeless people are eventually willing to take a chance on finding brotherhood within four walls. Many more are families who desperately need a roof over their heads.

The Lake City model, a $16 million, six-story building named McDermott Place after Rep. Jim McDermott, is operated by the Low Income Housing Institute with funding from the city, county, state and federal sources. Also contributing are Key Bank and other banks, tax credits, Seattle Housing Authority and United Way of King County, Ervin writes.

North Helpline last month moved the Lake City Food Bank and its emergency-services office to the building from cramped quarters in a nearby fire station. In addition, two Sound Mental Health case managers work full-time at McDermott Place and a weekly RotaCare clinic is being set up with volunteer doctors and nurses.

Vets in particular need our help.

“A lot of veterans fought our wars and they come back here and fight a different type of enemy. That could be drugs, alcohol, depression, mental illness,”  Low Income Housing Institute Executive Director Sharon Lee said. “We want to make sure homeless veterans are not sleeping on the streets and are not sleeping under bridges, in their cars.”

To read more about the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, and how you can help, click on this link. To read more about the workshop presentation, about “coming alongside” homeless people and extending a helping hand, read Judy Lightfoot’s blog on the subject. Judy calls it “freestyle volunteering,”  and offers ways to make it safe, helpful and hopeful to you and those you meet.

— Rita Hibbard

2 thoughts on “Hope for homeless vets in Seattle – a government, nonprofit and private collaboration

  1. It’s always blaming “DRUGS-ALCOHOL-AND BEING CRAZY” and then forcing the veterans to the ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL MANDATORY 12-Step Religious Cult, Never-Ending “How do you feel?” Group Therapy nonsense, and handfuls of brain-frying meds; all while the Agency is tapping every possible funding stream in the veteran’s name for their pockets/bank accounts while leaving the veteran in ABSOLUTE POVERTY. If the homeless veteran says he’s not crazy or addicted to anything NO BED! VERY EVIL!

    • So true. My veteran brother killed himself after getting treatment at the VA, not before. He was driven insane with all the horrible diagnoses and toxic meds. All he wanted was housing and a living wage job.