Detroit, December 6, 2013 — Just before Christmas last year, returning veteran Michael Gold felt desperate. He was back in Detroit after serving in the Air Force from 2005 to 2010, including being in war zones in Iraq. Although he fulfilled his mission in a distant land for our country, upon his return Michael felt another kind of distance between himself and the society he struggled to rejoin.
Work was hard to find, and he was broke. He was close to finishing his vocational training to become an aircraft mechanic. But Michael needed money to buy Christmas gifts for his family and to pay for his remaining classes. So, he decided to remove metal from abandoned buildings to sell for scrap. He was caught and taken to jail.
“Having to face my mother from behind two inches of Plexiglas brought me to tears,” says Michael, 28. “It was humiliating. They say war is hell, but this was like hell, too.”
Michael received probation for his offense. He vowed to pull his life together. But he needed a new place to stay and make a new start.
Michael applied for assistance through the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program. SSVF is a national program started by the VA in 2011 to help low-income veterans and their families stabilize their housing situation and connect to other services and resources they need. The VA regards SSVF as a critical component in its effort to prevent and end homelessness among veterans.
SSVF case managers outreach veterans at risk of becoming homeless and then provide short-term financial assistance to pay rent, rental arrearages, security deposits, utility bills, moving costs, other housing related costs, and childcare. In addition, case managers help veterans and their families to obtain opportunities for skill building, job training and education, VA and other public benefits, and mental health and substance abuse treatment, as needed.
There are more than 300 SSVF programs in the country. Southwest Solutions’ program is recognized as one of the best. Since it began two years ago, the program has assisted about 1,000 veterans and their families. In the past year, 33% of the veterans helped by the program are veterans who have returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The national average is 20%.
Through Southwest Solutions’ SSVF program, Michael obtained rental assistance and was able to move into his own apartment, along with his fiancée and her young child. He decided to live in a building in southwest Detroit revitalized and managed by Southwest Solutions. Michael also finished his vocational training, and then was hired as a tutor.
“I feel that my family is now charting a future of love, joy and happiness,” Michael says.
About 15% of veterans helped by Southwest Solutions’ SSVF are female. Diana King, 30, served in the Navy for six years, including a year in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning to Detroit, she experienced depression after the deaths of three close relatives in a short span. She lost her job and then she became homeless, living out of her pickup truck and a vacant house for a time.
SSVF case manager Willie Collins helped Diana connect with VA resources that provide ongoing financial and medical assistance. Diana is now living in a duplex with her two children after receiving her first month’s rent, security deposit, and new furniture through SSVF.
“I am in a much better place now, physically and psychologically, and my children are thriving,” Diana says.
Christopher Franklin, 27, needed a safe and stable apartment for himself and his two-year-old daughter, who stays with him regularly. He, too, received rental assistance through SSVF.
Christopher served in the Marines for nine years, including time in Iraq. He is currently unemployed, but is using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to get his bachelor’s degree.
“I really enjoy being in college and look forward to a new chapter in my life,” Christopher says.
Because of the success of Southwest Solutions’ SSVF, the VA has selected it to serve as a “mentor grantee” to help other SSVF programs serve veterans more effectively. In addition, through a partnership with Community Housing Network of Oakland County, Southwest Solutions’ program is expanding its services into Oakland and Macomb counties.
For more information about SSVF, call 313-481-7900. Or write Kenny Shannon, who manages the program.
The names Michael Gold and Diana King are aliases for veterans served in the SSVF.