Progress made providing housing to homeless vets - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Progress made providing housing to homeless vets

Think of the services offered by the Biloxi VA and homelessness probably doesn't come to mind. However, the VA has been the cornerstone of a coalition determined to find housing for any veteran. (Photo source: WLOX) Think of the services offered by the Biloxi VA and homelessness probably doesn't come to mind. However, the VA has been the cornerstone of a coalition determined to find housing for any veteran. (Photo source: WLOX)
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

Those who are on the front lines of fighting homelessness on the Mississippi Gulf Coast say progress is being made, but much work remains. When you consider the health care services provided at the Biloxi VA, homelessness probably doesn't come to mind. But the VA is the cornerstone in a coalition that's connecting homeless vets with affordable housing.

"From time to time, we're still going to have veterans who are homeless, but there's enough resources available to find some permanent housing for those veterans. So that's great progress in the last three years I've been working in the program here in Biloxi," said Eric Oleson, who heads the homeless program at the Biloxi VA.

He says it takes a collaborative approach to address the issue of homeless veterans. And while providing affordable housing is the most critical part of the equation, it's not the only need.

"That's the two main concerns when you're homeless, is being able to be employed and have a roof over your head. And they was instrumental in helping me in that area change," said veteran Alex Stallworth.

"So, we implemented the Housing First model, we're going to get the veterans into housing, but all those other support services, which includes employment, mental health, substance abuse treatment. So we have all of those issues," said Oleson.

"They all embraced me, you know they really helped me and I felt the love that they gave me. And they're doing good things for the veteran today and I really appreciate that," said Rodney Frelix, a veteran who got housing help from the VA.

Places beneath overpasses and bridges along the coast are popular spots for the homeless. Those who work with the population say it points to the need for an emergency homeless shelter, some place to provide a transition between living on the streets and getting affordable housing.

"We have some residential beds on the VA campus we can put them in, but if they don't meet the criteria there, they're still living on the streets," said Oleson.

"If there is someone experiencing homelessness now, who has not connected with the VA, they should contact the VA so they can receive services and access to housing," said Mary Simons.

She heads the Open Doors Homeless Coalition and works closely with the VA.

"Because we know what works, we've been able to help veterans move out of homelessness and into housing, we can expand our efforts and hopefully have an impact on the overall issue of homelessness here on the coast," said Simons.

If you are a homeless veteran, or know a vet who needs help with housing, there's a phone number to call at the VA. The number is 1-877-424-3838.

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