Projects aim to expand housing options, funds for emergencies

Posted on July 23, 2012

New projects in the works are expected to bring new permanent housing for veterans to Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and additional emergency funding programs to those areas.

The Detroit regional office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which serves veterans in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties, estimates that about 350,000 vets are eligible for benefits in those counties, said Patricia Wolschon, director of homeless programming for the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit. An estimated 2,000 of them are homeless.

Overall, Michigan has 30,000 unemployed veterans, and its 11.2 percent veteran unemployment rate is 1.8 percentage points higher than the civilian population and 2.9 percentage points higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the past few years, there has been a strong move to collaborate among the VA, other federal agencies and other community agencies to provide as many services as possible to get veterans back into the community, Wolschon said.

“We’ve got awesome nonprofits in Southeast Michigan (that) have worked well with us to figure out what can we provide our veterans and what (nonprofits) can provide so we’re not duplicating,” she said.

At the joint veterans conference in Detroit in late July, representatives from VAs in neighboring regions of Michigan and other states such as Indiana and Illinois were impressed with the number of community groups that the Detroit VA works with, Wolschon said.

Nonprofits are stepping up to offer transitional and permanent housing, vocational/employment training, benefit application assistance and social and mental health counseling for veterans. Up until now, those efforts primarily have been concentrated on Detroit and Wayne County.

But projects are in the works to expand permanent housing further into Macomb and Oakland counties and to offer other supportive services such as emergency funding to veterans in outlying areas.

There are new permanent housing developments in the works for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, Wolschon said. They’ll build on Southwest Solutions’ well-known Piquette Square permanent housing in Detroit and transitional housing developments opened over the past couple of years by nonprofits including Volunteers of America Michigan; Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division; Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries and Emmanuel House in Detroit.

“I’m working with a lot of different developers trying to get grants through (the Michigan State Housing Development Authority) to develop (more) permanent housing for veterans” in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, Wolschon said. They include such nonprofits as the Troy-based Community Housing Network and for-profits like Bingham Farms-based Trillacorpe Construction, Wolschon said.

A host of nonprofits have begun offering other supportive services for veterans.

Southwest Solutions provides veterans housing, mental health and substance abuse counseling and up to three months of rental subsidies for homeless veterans and connects them with employment assistance and job training.

In addition to helping provide transportation for veterans, the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency provides services that include housing assistance, emergency funding to help fill the gaps for security deposits, utility bill assistance, financial literacy training and the like.

Groups such as Community Housing Network in Troy and JVS in Southfield are also applying for federal grants so they can provide veterans emergency assistance funding, Wolschon said.

“Detroit has a big concentration of veterans, and it’s an area of economic downturn, so the need is great. But we would like to have (this emergency assistance) funding for every county we serve,” Wolschon said. “There are vets throughout the state.”

The Detroit-based Michigan Veterans Foundation works to fill the gaps in providing services to the state’s veterans. The organization said on its website that it plans to open facilities in several other Michigan cities. The VA previously offered vocational services, such as job training and résumé preparation. But roughly four years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor launched a program to provide nonprofits such as Southwest Solutions, JVS and Detroit-based Focus: Hope with grants for vocational training for veterans, she said.

“Helping a vet get a job is not a formulaic strategy … it’s building a relationship with that vet individually, helping them ascertain what they need to do and helping them do it,” said Tim Thorland, executive director of Southwest Housing Solutions in Detroit.

On the employer side, “it’s making them feel confident that we can deliver an employee to them who is confident, skilled, has a good work ethic and who wants to be an employee of that company.”

By: Sherri Welch, Crain’s Detroit