Sen. Murray visits Ellensburg to talk about help for veterans
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, visited HopeSource Tuesday in Ellensburg to discuss what organizations are doing to help thousands of veterans in Central Washington with housing and employment.
Representatives from WorkSource, HopeSource, Rapid Re-Housing and formerly homeless veterans sat down with the senator to discuss ongoing challenges. The issues raised ranged from finding homeless vets to provide services, working with local organizations and ways to improve grant programs.
“I really appreciate the tremendous work you do and we want it to keep going and I will do everything I can on my end,” Murray said. “We want to make sure (veteran services) get done and we want it done right. A lot of people think the wars are over. But if you served five, 10 or 50 years ago, you’re still a veteran.”
HopeSource works to help house veterans and provide other services in six counties — Chelan, Grant, Adams, Douglas, Kittitas and Okanogan, HopeSource CEO Susan Grindle said. The organization receives about $1 million through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program with the Department of Veteran Affairs.
“The goal of the grant is go find a homeless vet, get them housed, get them straightened, get them moving forward,” Grindle said.
Veterans Tiffany Metzger and Jerry Derham told their stories about battling homelessness during the meeting on Tuesday.
Metzger said she joined the military after leaving an abusive relationship as a way to create some financial stability. She was deployed almost immediately to Iraq and worked as a missile tech. She also did security for military convoys.
After she finished her military service, she returned to the United States and moved around trying to find work. She struggled to keep a job or complete college courses as she was suffering from PTSD. She eventually ended up in Phoenix and became homeless, living out of her car with two children.
“It is really hot there so homelessness could have sucked worse,” Metzger said.
Eventually she moved to Ellensburg where she received help from HopeSource. She got a job as a substitute school bus driver, but had a seizure and had to quit.
“(Back into) financial hardship again so I came back,” Metzger said. “They are helping me through rental assistance and case management to make sure I’m on track.”
Derham was a law enforcement specialist with the U.S. Air Force until he was honorably discharged. He tried to become a firefighter and moved to Skagit County to work, but had to retire for health reasons.
He moved to Utah to start over and got a job with a cable company, which moved him back to Washington and required him and his wife to move around staying in motels. He then got laid off by the company without enough money to even get back to Utah. He found out about HopeSource when he started collecting unemployment benefits.
Murray asked Metzger if she found it hard to call herself a veteran. Women don’t always identify themselves as veterans and have trouble reaching out to take advantage of the services that are there.
Metzger agreed that it could be challenging.
“It’s always where did your husband serve? What branch?” she said.
It is difficult to provide services to veterans in rural areas, Grindle said. There are many organizations available, but until three years ago there was no concentrated effort for those groups to work together.
“From an organizational point of view when we looked at Central Washington there is a big black hole in the six counties we decided to serve for veteran services,” she said. “There were many different organizations that had little pots of money.”
Three years ago when HopeSource first received the grant from Veteran Affairs, the nonprofit hired two people within the county to go out and find veterans to signup for services, Grindle said.
Murray asked how the organizations advertise their services.
Luis Torres, a veterans employment representative with WorkSource, said the organizations go to shelters, homeless camps and jails to locate veterans in need of assistance.
“We try to get them help before they get out (of jail) so they know where they are going,” Torres said.
Michael Porter, a SSVF case manager with HopeSource, said he forms connections with local businesses and landlords. He has a relationship with mechanics so if a veteran’s vehicle breaks down and they go in to get it fixed, the business can call him and let him know about it.
Metzger agreed it can sometimes be hard to know where to go for services. One thing she has seen is a growing recognition of the Wounded Warrior Project.
The program’s vans, which have logos and a 1-800 number to call, help publicize the program, Grindle said.
“We’ve even had veterans flag us down and stop us, because they need services,” Porter said.
Grindle said the organization is equipped to do an intake with just the van and does not need to bring veterans into the office.
“Every case manager has with them a laptop, a printer, a scan, fax, cellphone, an e-signer, they have everything,” Grindle said.
The No. 1 challenge for rural areas in providing services to veterans is competing for funds with larger urban areas, said Mark Hollandsworth, HopeSource senior manager.
“It is very competitive and most of the money is snapped up by your larger inner city areas,” he said. “And we would love to see pots of money dedicated to those rural expansive areas so we have an opportunity to allocate it and apply to it the veterans out here.”
The six counties that HopeSource covers have close to 16,000 veterans and 5,000 of them in need of some kind of assistance, Hollandsworth said. HopeSource only has the funds to cover about 200 of them.
Veterans also need more permanent supportive housing and transitional housing, Porter said. In addition HopeSource could use more services to support housing, like more specialized mental health treatment, in counties like Kittitas.
“So having just a housing program here is still a distance to get to Spokane, Wenatchee and Yakima for services,” Porter said. “So having that available here with the resources as part of that supportive housing program would be the most beneficial in my opinion.”
Organizations supporting veterans could also use more funding for food and furniture, Hollandsworth said. The grant does not currently allow organizations to spend funding on food.
“So when I am servicing those veterans who are in homeless camps or are hard to reach or are even trying to lower that barrier so that they will greet us, food would be a wonderful segue,” he said.
Also when HopeSources does get veterans into housing, the grant allows them to provide a bed, but nowhere for them veterans to sit or eat.
“We can give them a bed and we can give them dishes, but nothing to sit or eat at, no chairs,” Hollandsworth said. “It would be nice to be able to convert it from four walls to a semblance of a domicile.”