Catholic Charities Veteran Services helps veterans and their families who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness find stable housing and provides ongoing case management that includes financial planning, assistance applying for VA benefits, emergency assistance and more.

Monday, 03 June 2024

Veteran Settles into a Peaceful Life in Permanent Housing After Long-Term Homelessness

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For Kevin, a veteran from Boston, it has been a long journey to get to Flagstaff, the place he now calls home. Kevin joined the Army in 1985 in hopes of becoming a medic. After spending some time in Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. During a training, Kevin injured his arm and eventually returned to Massachusetts where he spent the next several years working as a painter.

Living a Nomadic Lifestyle

After losing contact with his family and eventually becoming homeless, Kevin left Massachusetts in search of a more stable life. He set out on foot with a 50-pound backpack and walked much of the route from Boston to Arizona.

“It’s a common story for guys who are involved with the VA. You end up on the highway, looking for greener pastures,” shares Kevin, as he recalls his journey walking through Pennsylvania and Ohio before catching a bus to Colorado. He eventually landed in Flagstaff. “I was searching for a mountain town with big pine trees and sunshine, and I found it,” says Kevin.

Kevin was unhoused and in and out of shelters when he first made contact with Catholic Charities nearly 10 years ago. During a Stand Down event in Flagstaff, staff from Catholic Charities’ PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) program engaged Kevin in conversation. PATH identifies severely mentally ill people experiencing homelessness and provides resources, services and treatment opportunities. PATH is often the first point of contact for people experiencing homelessness in the community. Individuals who do not qualify for PATH services are often referred to other programs.

Struggling to Overcome Barriers to Housing

He soon began coming to the Catholic Charities office for things like food and toiletries. Despite obtaining housing twice through Catholic Charities’ Veterans Services program, Kevin would reenter homelessness. Veterans Services assists veterans and veteran families who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness in securing stable housing and provides case management and resources.

His long-time Catholic Charities case manager shares, “Kevin had two semi-successful housing experiences, but they didn’t last. He lived a very nomadic lifestyle, and for the last few years he moved around a lot, without shelter.”

Nevertheless, whenever he was in town, Kevin would continue to come to Catholic Charities Flagstaff office. He would have a hot cup of coffee and visit staff who would check in with him, see how he was doing and find out if he needed more supplies like food, water and clothing.

A Veteran’s Perseverance Pays Off

Last year, Kevin decided he was ready to give permanent housing another try. Catholic Charities’ Veterans Services case managers reenrolled him in the program, but this time they weren’t able to find housing due to the tough housing market in Flagstaff.

They did, however, connect Kevin with the VA, and he ended up receiving a HUD VASH voucher. The voucher provides long-term rental assistance and can help a veteran achieve lifelong stability.

Kevin’s case manager helped him apply to a few housing options, and although it took months to find an apartment, they finally did thanks to a local landlord who has worked closely with Catholic Charities’ housing program for years. This was a huge win for Kevin and his case manager.

A Happy Ending After Homelessness

Now that Kevin is successfully housed through the VASH voucher, he will receive long-term case management from the VA. Kevin sees his VA case manager biweekly, and the two have a strong relationship. But his friendship with Catholic Charities staff is enduring.

“We have an agreement,” shares Kevin’s former Catholic Charities case manager. “Kevin is always welcome here. He’s like family to us.”

When asked about what it’s like to finally be settled after so many years of drifting, Kevin responds, “I live in the downtown area, and everything is close. I can walk to the shops in the morning; the park is right there. It’s a pretty area. It’s exactly what I want.”

Kevin reflects on his journey and the fact that many of the people he met along the way ended up in bad situations or never found a home. “Not everyone was as lucky as me. Not everyone has the happy ending I have. You have to be tenacious and patient. I found what I wanted. I was one of the fortunate ones.”

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Chelsea Buck-Leilich

Chelsea Buck-Leilich is the Marketing and Philanthropy Specialist for Catholic Charities Northern Arizona region. Chelsea has nearly 15 years of experience working with non-profit organizations. Since earning a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013, Chelsea has worked primarily in marketing and fundraising. Chelsea has also completed the Harvard Business School Club of San Diego’s Not for Profit Management course.