I can’t help being excited on race day. The music and colors, the flags and people, and, in this case, the dogs make me want to get up and run. The pre-dawn darkness or the record cold temperatures would not stop the annual Run to Remember 5K at Elk Ridge Park in North Logan on Nov. 2. This year, I volunteered to help at the finish line.
Cache Valley Veteran’s Association puts on the run primarily to support the Veteran’s Service Animal Project, which I wrote about in detail at this time last year. But this year, something else caused a buzz among the volunteer crew — homelessness.
One of the volunteers had an interaction with a homeless man earlier in the week. He offered work, food and additional clothing to the man. He wondered aloud, “Should I have done more? I am willing.”
Cache Valley Veteran’s Association CEO Phil Redlinger had an answer for him and advice for others who want to help homeless people. He estimates that the general homeless population in Cache Valley has increased by 30% over the past few months. Extending an offer of food, work or clothing is a good start. But what homeless people really need is to break the barriers of homelessness.
In response to the rise in homeless numbers, the association is trying to increase the services available in Cache Valley. The association begins the process by helping homeless individuals make connections with local services.
“We are a case-managing resource in that we will help them break the barriers of homelessness and get those issues settled and stabilized so they are not in a situation where they become homeless again. It could be a situation where they need help with mental health, or need a job. We help them solve those issues.”
According to the National Survey of Homeless Veterans, homelessness for those who have served in the military is a huge problem in the United States. More than 500,000 veterans may be homeless at some point in time during a given year. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is able to help around 92,000 of those each year, but due to the vastness of the problem, only 20% of veterans receive the services and support they need. Wounded Warrior Homes estimates that 55% of all homeless people at any given time are veterans.
The statistics become even more troubling for veterans who are poor or female. According to Green Door, female veterans are two to three times more likely to become homeless than any other adult group in the United States. Veterans are 50% more likely to be homeless due to poverty. Veterans ages 18-30 are twice as likely to be homeless as the general population.
Those statistics are not just numbers on a page to the Cache Valley Veteran’s Association. For the past few years, the association has been working on ways to serve the large local veteran population of well over 10,000 veterans and service members. Some of those men and women have to combat homelessness. For the association, the solution and long term goal is to establish a veteran’s resource center here. It will be the first one in Utah.
Laurie Redlinger, the association’s recorder, said the resource center is nearly ready to open. “We have the building. Right now we are waiting for permits to come through. ...We want to be the resource for everything that they need; whether it’s mental health or telehealth, whether it’s socialization, whether
it’s information, whether it’s different programs through Marine Corp League– everything. We want veterans to come to us so we can help them find the resource they need to be successful.”
Phil Redlinger said one of the big challenges is helping homeless people become self-sufficient. That is especially important to him because of his personal story. “Being a veteran myself and having dealt with eviction in my younger years, and I have a brother that is homeless, it really hits home,” Redlinger said.
Redlinger emphasizes that getting help at critical times is key to transitioning to long-term housing and independence. “We have success stories like a veteran who had been homeless for 17 years. … There was nothing wrong with him, he had just fallen through the cracks. We got him housed in two weeks. That’s just one success story. ... I’ll work with anybody homeless.”
After connecting homeless people with resources, providing temporary, phase-one transitioning is the next step. Temporary housing is just that — a short term way to get homeless veterans off the street while Bear River Association of Government or Homeless Veteran’s Fellowship applications are processed. Hopefully, long-term housing and stable living conditions will allow participants to get back on their feet.
“The idea isn’t to just hand them everything they might need but to connect them to the resources that will help them be self-sufficient,” said Redlinger. “To many who are currently homeless, that sense of independence is one of the reasons they are on they streets. They want to be able to help themselves. We want to preserve their dignity.”
That sense of dignity goes far beyond making sure we salute the flag when it passes. It applies to how the community takes care of the women and men who have served our country. In the freezing months ahead, it means those men and women should have a warm place to sleep and a job to wake up to. Getting them started with resources and tools may be all veterans need to take themselves across the finish line.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org