Our case managers with Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) go out of their way – literally – to meet homeless vets where they are and offer them the services they need. “When we identify a homeless veteran and verify their veteran status, we offer to schedule an intake to immediately provide case management and housing assistance,” says Victoria Spitler, SSVF Schuylkill County case manager. Often, these vets are found during “outreach,” a crucial part of Victoria’s job. Outreach means that she treks to far-flung locations in the county – wooded areas, along railroad tracks – anywhere that people experiencing homelessness may seek shelter. “Our program aims to reach homeless veterans living on the streets or in the woods, who may be unable to access services,” she says.
On one recent outreach, Victoria was joined by Shawn Frankenstein, Service Access Management (SAM) in Schuylkill County; fellow SSVF Lancaster County Case Manager Kim Hartman; Kim Long, SSVF Berks County Case Manager; and Holly Wolf, SSVF Program Director. Walking the railroad tracks, the team identified several areas that appeared to be occupied by people experiencing homelessness, including a vacant grocery store. Although they didn’t see anyone, they left a brochure in a grocery cart full of belongings sitting in front of the building, to let them know the services available to them through SSVF and SAM. Their final stop: an abandoned building, where they encountered two people sheltering there. “We told them about the services we could offer them,” says Victoria. Sadly, for one reason or another, some vets are reluctant to access these services.
“Many veterans believe they don’t qualify for SSVF if they are ineligible for VA services,” she says. “Or they are too prideful to receive help, which has a negative stigma in the military.” Victoria met such a vet when she started at SSVF in Schuylkill County. “He travelled from state park to state park, sleeping in his vehicle or a tent in the woods,” she says. After experiencing health issues, he agreed to pursue housing. Victoria found and moved him into an apartment. During a case management meeting with this vet, she asked him how he was adjusting to his new place. “His answer was humbling, ”Victoria says. “The clanking from the radiators heating up and the sound of his neighbors in the hallway annoyed him, until he related those sounds to the sounds of rain splashing off his tent, or small woodland animals by his tent in the night.” But the veteran’s biggest moment of relief was “when it snowed, and he was warmed by radiators rather than using two large candles to stay warm,” says Victoria.
Providing essentials for vets, such as gift cards to grocery stores or Walmart, is a thoughtful way to thank those who have served our country. If your organization, family, or church would like to help, call SSVF program director, Holly Wolf at 610- 374-4696 extension 293.