Feds: Kent County has ended veteran homelessness

(File photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Veterans like Timothy James Lewis now have place to call home, thanks to an effort that’s made Kent County only the 45th community in the U.S. to effectively end homelessness among veterans.

“When I first got into the program, it was like, ‘Wow… sometimes it was a depressing thing,” Lewis said.

He’s one of about 400 veterans no longer on the streets of Kent County, thanks to the work of the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness.

Jennifer Rich with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness says the federal government has criteria and benchmarks to define an effective end to veteran homelessness. In Kent County, dozens of public and private agencies took on the mission and met those benchmarks.

Their first task was to identify who is a homeless veteran. A veteran outreach team began the field work.

“(It’s) being able to go to encampments, being able to go to places not meant for human habitation, shelters, missions,” explained Anna Diaz with local homeless advocacy group, Community Rebuilders.

Once a homeless veteran has been identified, they’re moved into emergency shelters or transitional housing, then eventually into permanent homes. The process takes an average of 90 days.

The Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness also developed programs to make sure veterans they’ve helped can stay in their home, and catch other veterans before they fall into the same predicament.

Advocates say the idea some homeless people don’t want the kind of services offered is a myth when it comes to veterans in need. The proof is in the numbers.

They began by identifying just under 300 homeless veterans. Word of mouth increased that number to 400.

“One veteran speaks to another veteran who maybe didn’t trust the system, who maybe doesn’t trust that we are actually there to help them find housing, and we can start to build rapport that way. Then you find veterans come to us,” explained Diaz.

Timothy James Lewis is one of those veterans.

“They made me see there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Now that the initiative has been accomplished, leaders plan to expand it to help all of the area’s homeless.

“So the work isn’t done yet, but it’s a good jumping off point for our community. To see that when organizations do come together that good effective collaboration can happen, we can find ways to streamline the system and come to consensus so we can end homelessness for everyone in our community,” said Community Rebuilders Director of Advancement and Communications Jeffrey King.