By KAITLYN NAPLES
When Westport resident Greg Behrman returned home a year-and-a-half ago from serving with the Navy in Afghanistan, he said he was committed to “doing something for veterans and their families” no matter what.
After doing some research, he discovered the president’s plan to end homelessness among veterans by the year of 2015. Behrman said he also discovered that Connecticut did not have a plan set in place to combat the homelessness among its veterans, some 400 per night on average who are in a temporary shelter, or are on the streets.
“I was blown away; we have so many resources yet there are these people who put on a uniform, serve their country, and come back and don’t have a place to live,” said Behrman, who is the founder of the Connecticut Heroes Project, a campaign to end homelessness among Connecticut veterans by 2015.
In 2009, President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinsek announced their plan to end homelessness among veterans by 2015, and according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans who are homeless has dropped by 17.2 percent, and the VA said it would dedicate $1.4 billion in 2013 to specialized homeless programs, and $4.4 billion to health care for veterans who are homeless.
Here in Connecticut, Behrman and a co-worker are working closely with partners, service providers, organizations, nonprofits and more to roll out programs and initiatives for the veterans who are homeless or struggling with safe or secure housing.
“It is a tough objective, we know we have our hands full, but we believe we will be able to achieve this in a sustainable way,” he said, adding future change includes policy changes and reforms to help veterans find housing that is not temporary.
One of the initiatives Connecticut Heroes Project recently implemented was its Security Deposit Loan program with the West Haven Housing Authority. Behrman said this program allows veterans to get a lease faster by getting a loan for their security deposit. Another program is the Veteran Opportunity Fund, which will offer employment specialists to work with veterans and making sure they have the skills and credentials needed to get jobs and succeed at them, so they can pay for housing. Behrman said his campaign is for the entire state of Connecticut, and hopes for it to reach other states to end homelessness among veterans. He said 100 percent of the funds raised or donated go directly to programs to help homeless veterans.
“We’re really passionate about this; it is such a great opportunity to do right by people who sacrificed their lives for us and I think it is criminal that these people are experiencing such hardship,” Behrman added.
In January of this year, the Homeless Point in Time Count, which is put out by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, was released. It counts the number of homeless people on the streets and in temporary shelters.
According to the document (which was sent to the Bristol Observer by the state’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs), on the night of Jan. 29, 2013, 4,506 persons were homeless in Connecticut. In Bristol, there were 17 adults and children in families, and 56 adults without children (four of whom were between the ages of 18 and 24) that were sheltered and unsheltered. On this night, the homeless population in Bristol totaled 2 percent of the state’s homeless population, or 73 persons. In Bristol, 16 homeless individuals were unsheltered, meaning they were on the streets or in a location that is not meant for human habitation. (None of those 16 individuals counted as unsheltered in Bristol were veterans.)
According to the analysis, three of the homeless individuals in Bristol were veterans, and on the night of the survey 340 veterans were counted in shelters and in “places unintended for human habitation,” with 24 of those individuals being female veterans and three out of eight veterans were experiencing chronic homelessness. Statewide, the report said, 266 veterans were counted in either emergency shelters or in transitional housing. Bridgeport had the highest number of homeless veterans.
Statewide, 74 veterans were unsheltered on the night of the study and in New Britain all 10 unsheltered adults counted were veterans.
Bristol has the fifth largest veterans population in the state. While the study shows valid numbers, not all homeless individuals may have been found that night, and many of them may not have disclosed themselves as veterans.
Donna Dognin, customer support coordinator at the Army Strong Community Center in Bristol, said in an email that the best way for homeless individuals or families in Bristol to get help is to seek community service, like Bristol Community Organization, or shelters. She said individuals should let the services know if they are a veteran, “especially here in Bristol, we are very connected with the social services in the City, who then in turn will connect the veteran to us, or call us for additional resources.”
Philip Lysiak, executive director of the St. Vincent De Paul Mission of Bristol said while he does not see many veterans at the shelter, there have been some that have come through the doors. Lysiak said the mission has the resources to connect the veterans with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, or VASH. This program will find housing for the veterans, and Lysiak said there is a quick turnaround between getting them from the shelter into the program.
“The best thing is to call Veterans Affairs (VA) or the shelter; don’t wait around out there, there is help,” Lysiak added.
The St. Vincent De Paul Mission of Bristol is located at 19 Jacobs St., and can be reached at (860)589-9098. The Department of Veterans Affairs is located at 287 West St, Rocky Hill, and can be reached at (860)721-5976. For more information on the Connecticut Heroes Project visit its website at www.ctheroesproject.org.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com.