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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Department of Veterans Affairs is working toward an ambitious goal: Eliminate homelessness among veterans by the year 2014.
The Biloxi VA is taking action to help achieve that challenge. That agency hosted its first Homeless Summit on Tuesday.
Around 100 representatives from various social service agencies attended the program. They shared information about services available to help homeless vets and brain-stormed ideas about how to improve that outreach.
"It takes one of us, who've been there, to really communicate with this guy," said a combat veteran, who offered ideas for reaching the hard-to-reach homeless.
Various agencies that provide services to homeless vets share many of the same frustrations.
"Getting the knowledge of what's available to the target population we want to work with," said one small group leader, as her team made a list of "barriers" that prevent services from reaching those who need it.
Reaching the estimated 600 homeless veterans along the gulf coast is among the biggest hurdles. The VA is equipped to handle their special medical needs.
"Including our treatment services: Substance abuse and PTSD related services are also very important. We go out into the community with our "health care for the homeless vets" program and bring them into our facility to take care of their health care needs," said Wendyann Wyatt, who directs social service programs at the Biloxi VA.
The recession increased the number of homeless and cut into donations that support the agencies which provide the help.
"Then there's the point when you reach into your own pocket and hand him what's available," said one woman during the break out session, "And eventually that runs out too."
While the VA offers several housing and treatment programs to help the homeless, the agency can't do it alone. That's why community partners are critical.
Thomas Wisnieski is director of the Biloxi VA.
"We need their assistance. We cannot do it alone. There are so many, evidenced by the attendance here today, there are so many different agencies that want to provide various and different assistance programs for those that need it. and we need that help in order to be successful," he explained.
The homeless program coordinator for the Biloxi VA says one thing noticeably absent in Harrison County is a full time homeless shelter.
"I believe that's a critical missing link. Homeless shelters are utilized so much in our other areas. That is a first step. Get someone off the street and let's try to work with them," said Susan Guillory.
Working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the VA has a limited number of housing vouchers to assist veterans who need a place to live.
The Gulf Coast VA is also offering a grant and per diem housing program, which offers financial support to community agencies willing to help provide housing for homeless veterans.
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