SAN ANGELO, Texas – Veterans Day is November 11. With this date quickly approaching, we wanted to take time to recognize some ongoing issues veterans are facing locally.
The first issue is housing and homelessness.
“We’re seeing a lot of housing issues, that’s the number one issue. Housing issues could be anything from budgeting to income to lost jobs due to income so housing issues is what we’re seeing the most,” Paul Keeton, Director of Veteran’s Services at West Texas Counseling and Guidance, said.
Keeton says, they’re on track to help a total of almost 15-hundred veterans and their family members this year alone.
“It’s mostly people who are struggling to figure out how to make it to the next month. That’s where we also step in with the mental health too because it’s additional stressers that add up. It’s more than just the housing issues, more than mental health, it’s all of it combined,” Keeton said.
However, there are some veterans in San Angelo who are classified as homeless.
“Locally our numbers aren’t that big but they’re significant, especially if you’re one of those veterans. Normally we have around a dozen or a handful of homeless at any particular time here in San Angelo,” Bob Salas, Director of Neighborhood and Family Services for the City of San Angelo, said.
Salas is also the Chair of the local Homeless Coalition.
“Some are what we call situational homeless, that is they lost a job, or they can’t’ find work. Something happened, a crisis in their life occurred that made them homeless. Those are easier to deal with because they’re willing a ready to join the programs that we offer,” Salas said.
Those programs include voucher and other assistance options.
“The public housing authority for example has a program and they provide vouchers to get them into rental housing relatively quickly,” Salas said.
In 2019, the City of Abilene officially announced that they had eliminated veteran homelessness in the city. A goal that Salas says is possible in San Angelo as well.
“Our goal for this coming year is to do the same thing to eliminate veteran homelessness in San Angelo,” Salas said.
However, there is a long road ahead when it comes to accomplishing that feat.
“I think folks need to understand that the solution is not necessarily easy, there’s a lot of moving parts. One of those moving parts is that veteran needs to be ready and willing to participate. People don’t realize that if you have mental issues you don’t want to have the regulations that some of these programs carry with them,” Salas said.
One solution Salas is advocating for is case management.
“Someone needs to be able to get into the system someone needs to walk them through the obstacles that made them homeless,” Salas said.
The City of San Angelo recently received a grant for a case manager. Salas says that position should be filled on December 1.
Until then, there are ways the community can help. That’s by getting involved in some of the support organizations that help the homeless coalition and other veteran’s groups.
“The faith community in San Angelo has done phenomenal things in the last couple of months with food insecurities in the community beyond what I’ve even recognized. And while that’s not directly housing or mental health, it’s kind of all built into that. Galilee has always done good work. Community Action Agency has been phenomenal for helping the veterans in our community with housing issues,” Keeton said.
Veterans Organizations Shut Down by COVID-19
“COVID obviously shut us down so these veteran serving organizations had to switch to virtual meetings or they just didn’t have meetings so I think it’s just a game of catch up that we’re all seeing right now of like, well what’s the next step? Is it safe? How do we do this? How do we become effective again?” Keeton said.
Keeton says, the shut down caused a number of issues including putting a halt to one very important aspect for recovery: socializing with other veterans.
“Peer support is a huge part of veteran care. Being able to talk to someone who understands you, who has worn the uniform, it goes a long way. So the stressers of maybe losing that peer support and seeing your friends and seeing your family it goes along way into someone’s mental health,” Keeton said.
For those who have not served but know someone who has and is struggling, there are a few steps you can take to help. The first would be to start a conversation.
“First thing would be to encourage them, it’s okay to ask for help. That’s always the biggest step for anybody, veteran or not, right? It’s scary to ask for help and let somebody in. Just encourage them to know that it’s actually a sign of strength that they’re trying to recover and heal from anything that put them in that place,” Keeton said.
The next step would be putting those words into action.
“If you can connect them to someone who can take care of them. VA does a phenomenal job, we’re here, there are several different agencies and nonprofits that are very good at what they do and if you have the opportunity to connect them to that resource directly that goes a long way,” Keeton said.
For more information or to get involved with the Homeless Coalition, contact the Neighborhood and Family Services Department.
To learn more about West Texas Counseling and Guidance click here.