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Veteran Homelessness Down Nationwide, But Progress In Mississippi Not Clear

By Evelina Burnett | Published 16 Dec 2013 06:00am | comments

Homelessness among the nation’s former military service members has declined considerably since the Department of Veterans Affairs announced its goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015 -- and poured billions of dollars into housing and other programs.

But as MPB Gulf Coast reporter Evelina Burnett reports, the progress in Mississippi is harder to track.

Joey Noles served in the Navy from 1969 to 1973. But he became one of the nation’s 58,000 homeless veterans more recently.

"That came after my divorce," he says.

The VA is now also helping Noles with housing. A local community group, Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, helped him find a place to live, and he’s getting VA assistance with the rent.

Through a joint program with HUD, the VA has housed more than 40,000 veterans like Noles across the country, and it’s also partnered with local groups like Back Bay Mission to help reach homeless and low-income veterans.

This and other programs have led to a 24 percent decline nationwide in veteran homelessness since 2009.

But here in Mississippi, the progress is not quite so clear cut. While the number of homeless vets in Jackson is down, the numbers in other parts of the state are up.

Eric Oleson, homeless program manager at the Biloxi VA, says, on the coast, there’s been progress but still many veterans who need help. This time last year, the VA estimated there were 400 homeless veterans here.

Maggie Landry is a caseworker at Back Bay Mission, which is one of six Mississippi organizations that received a grant from the VA to provide supportive services for veterans.

She says their goal this fiscal year is to serve 50 veterans; just two months in, they’ve already enrolled almost half that number. In addition to helping the currently homeless, they’ve also been seeing many veterans who are teetering close to homelessness.

Navy veteran Joey Noles says he knows many veterans, especially his fellow Vietnam vets, still on the streets.

Those who work with the homeless say many veterans from the Vietnam era don’t trust the VA, while others, from every era, may need help navigating the system.

Stacy Crandall is social service program coordinator for the Salvation Army in Gulfport. She says 13 to 25 percent of the homeless they serve are veterans.

Local agencies say the issue of veteran homelessness is likely to continue as more service members return home, especially if the economy continues to sputter.

Lee Floyd is commander of the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Gulfport. He sees homeless veterans on a daily basis and says it’s getting worse because of the type of war today’s soldiers are fighting.

Floyd says the process needs to begin the moment veterans return home, helping them find a way to connect.

A study last year of almost 500,000 recent veterans found that almost 4 percent had experienced a period of homelessness in the first five years after separating from the military.





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