Homelessness in veterans is an ongoing problem across the U.S. With the recent conclusion of “boots on ground” combat operations in Iraq and the conclusion of major operations in Afghanistan, there has been a sharp increase in the number of servicemembers discharged from the military branches. Every military servicemember becomes a veteran upon discharge from his or her branch of service but that does not meanevery veteran will receive the care and support he or she will need to reintegrate to civilian life. As every veteran has a unique experience in the military, so does every veteran face a unique reintegration process. We are here to help in whatever capacity we can, and our shelter is a site for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Grant and Per Diem Program, a nationally recognized program which tackles the issue of veterans homelessness by giving them a place to recover, rest, and recuperate.
Although veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most recent veterans to need help, there are still many veterans from previous American conflicts who are in need as well. For example, many veterans of the Vietnam War were labelled as having “shell shock” or “combat stress” when in fact, they were suffering major episodes of PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs, in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has reduced the veteran homeless population from an estimated 75,600 in 2009 to approximately 57,849 by the latest count in January 2013, a 23% improvement (National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, 2015).
Colorado veterans make up 13% of the state population and over 75% of all Colorado veterans have served in a period of combat. In 2014, the state of Colorado counted 753 homeless veterans in the state, which translates to 7.51% of the total homeless population being veterans. We at La Puente Shelter are working to change that statistic to zero.
La Puente Shelter is the only GPD site outside of Denver for the entire Eastern Colorado Health Care System. We are also the southernmost GPD site for VISN 19, the Rocky Mountain Network, which is the Regional VA network spanning Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. As such we work with County Veterans Service Officers and Department of Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) partners to coordinate referrals into our program.
In order to properly provide care for our homeless veterans in the San Luis Valley, we work closely with our local County Veterans Service Officers, the Adams State University Veterans Club, the San Luis Valley Veterans Coalition, the San Luis Valley Women Veterans Association, local posts of veterans service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Marine Corps League and VA representatives. We also are in regular communication with veteran support agencies along the Western Slopes and the Front Range in order to better coordinate long term care for our veterans.
Entry into the GPD Program is dependent on several criteria, such as not having a dishonorable discharge, but we encourage all veterans to contact us. Even if the GPD Program is not right for you, we can still refer you to various agencies to ensure you get the assistance you need. La Puente Shelter collaborates with the Program to Assist in the Transition out of Homelessness (PATH), through the San Luis Valley Behavioral Health Group, to provide assistance to people facing homelessness. PATH is able provide support through referrals for alcohol and drug treatment, low income housing services, and employment assistance. We can also make referrals to the Veterans Employment Representative of the local office of the Colorado Workforce Center, who helps veterans translate their military skills into civilian qualifications, as well as giving veterans a competitive advantage in applying for jobs. In addition to liaising with external agencies La Puente has an Outreach Services office which utilizes a grant in assisting veterans with getting necessary household items and work supplies.
Our veterans are always in need of hygiene care products such as shampoo, soap, towels, washcloths, toothbrushes, and toothpaste. We are also in need of work clothes (slacks, dress shirts, ties) and work shoes (boots and dress shoes). We have a flagpole in front of our shelter and we are in need of 3’x5’ American flags (new or gently used) as well as POW/MIA and Colorado state flags.
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