A dual approach is underway to identify and assist homeless veterans in Merced County. An outreach campaign is going on this week to locate homeless vets and connect them to services and housing. The following week a Vet Connect event is being held to provide a one-stop shop of services for homeless and needy vets.
The county-wide “No More Homeless Veterans” Task Force, is working to find homeless veterans. The group consists of representatives from several organizations, including the Veterans Administration in Merced County and Fresno County, United Way of Merced County, WestCare San Joaquin Valley Vets (SJVV), Merced County Human Services Agency Veteran Services Office and the Merced County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.
Carol Bowman of United Way said the Merced Continuum of Care accepted the Mayor’s challenge to end veteran homelessness in Merced County.
“Housing veterans is our priority and always will be,” Bowman said. “Through effective collaboration and commitment of organizations and staff, we now clearly see that, while in the future there may be veterans who are homeless in Merced County, we have processes and procedures in place to locate them and provide services and housing within a short period of time.”
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Homeless Task Force members walk the encampments, parks, streets and other locations where persons experiencing homelessness are known to gather, searching for homeless veterans. Once identified, the veterans are referred to the VA or San Joaquin Valley Vets for intake, assessment and determination of eligibility for benefits. Referrals to services, including housing, resulted in a reduction in the number of homeless veterans in Merced County over the last several years.
In 2015, there were 88 homeless veterans in the County. By 2016 the number was down to 25 homeless vets. This year the number has been reduced to 17.
Throughout this year, United Way, through a grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development, employs two full time Outreach Workers who are working to locate all persons experiencing homelessness, including veterans. Once located, an intake and assessment process identifies service and housing needs so that people may be housed. Since January, 2017 an additional 20 veterans have been housed -- on average -- within 60 days or less.
Now, case workers know of nine recently identified homeless veterans and each one is being assisted in locating housing. The Task Force will be making one more effort to locate homeless veterans, by conducting intensive outreach the week of Aug. 14, followed by the Vet Connect event Aug. 24.
The goal is to rapidly rehouse any new homeless veterans who show up on the streets. The effort is being made County-wide to identify veterans, provide the services and housing they need as quickly as possible.
Merced Vet Connect Day will bring a variety of services and resources together for veterans in need. Thursday, Aug. 24 is intended to help homeless veterans and other struggling veterans receive the services that will give them a hand up out of poverty, despair and homelessness.
Among the free services available are:
Intake and assessment for housing and employment services
Community resources, veterans services, benefit enrollment
Lunch, refreshments, giveaways and more
The Vet Connect Day will be held at the Merced County Veterans Services Office, 3376 N. Highway 59, Suite D., Merced, starting at 9 a.m. There will be free bus transportation for all veterans.
Veterans Connect is part of the on-going outreach efforts for homeless veterans.
For more information about Vet Connect and other efforts to end veteran homelessness, call the Veterans Services Office at 209-385-7588 or the United Way of Merced County at 209-383-4242.