This month Catholic Charities of West Tennessee launches a new program called St. Sebastian Veteran Services to provide critical assistance to homeless veterans and their families and to those facing imminent eviction or foreclosure.
A veteran participates in the launch of the St. Sebastian Veteran Services program last week.
A special event was held on Friday, Oct. 18, at the organization’s campus at 1324 Jefferson Ave. to officially kick off the program, and guests included Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
“Homelessness for veterans is a growing problem in Shelby County,” said Michael D. Allen, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. “This program is brand new to Shelby County, and the goal is for veterans to live in their own independent permanent home.”
Earlier this year, the Community Alliance for the Homeless identified as many as 280 homeless veterans on any particular night in the area, and we also know that an estimated 1,300 homeless veterans have accessed services from the many social service providers during the course of the year.”
The St. Sebastian program is funded by a renewable, one-year $907,000 grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families, and it will be used to help as many as 160 veterans and their families during the program’s first year.
Services will include assistance in obtaining short-term housing, assistance in obtaining earned benefits, employment counseling, family financial counseling and referrals to other Catholic Charities of West Tennessee programs and community-based programs.
“Equally important will be employment, so we will have a full-time employment counselor who will work with the veterans and their families on writing resumes, interview skills and connecting them with potential employers who have a stated preference for hiring veterans,” Allen said.
The program will have a staff of six employees, including its director, Tony Brown, who previously ran Catholic Charities of West Tennessee’s Dozier House that closed due to lack of funding earlier this year. Two of the six employees are former veterans.
“We will work with landlords, and in an emergency situation we will put people up in extended-stay hotels for a week or so,” Allen said.
The St. Sebastian program has actually already assisted its first couple, who were in danger of being evicted from their home in Collierville.
“We were able to intercede and get them some financial help,” Allen said. “We worked with their landlord, and now we are assisting them with other issues on the case management side.”
Program services are expected to be in place for the public by this week, and Allen plans to have case managers in place to start fielding clients.
“Sometimes veterans cannot get into an apartment because they do not have a job yet, or they just started a job and cannot pay the utilities deposit and the first and last month’s rent, so that’s what this grant embodies,” said Dr. C. Diane Knight, new director of the Memphis VA Medical Center.
The VA is the largest provider of care to the homeless veteran population, both for medical care and mental health care, and Catholic Charities of West Tennessee is one of its strongest advocates for getting veterans into homes. Through the “100,000 Homes” national program, the VA recently identified 66 individuals in the Memphis metropolitan area who were chronically homeless.
“We work closely with the Memphis Public Housing Authority and the Jackson Public Housing Authority in collaboration with CCWTN, and together with them we placed almost 300 veterans into apartments during the last fiscal year,” Knight said.
October has been a huge month for the organization, as earlier this month it doubled the capacity at its Genesis House shelter for homeless veterans suffering from mental illness and addiction.
Catholic Charities of West Tennessee offers other emergency services year-round, such as a mobile food pantry, clothes closet and external community resources such as legal assistance.
“We also had a summer camp in the Hickory Hill area that networked with 80 kids this summer, and we have an immigration services department,” Allen said.
With the addition of this new grant, the organization has reduced its dependence on government funding from 60 percent of its total revenue in 2010 to less than 30 percent this year.
Catholic Charities of West Tennessee serves people regardless of religious beliefs, socio-economic status or ethnic background.