During a one-night count in 2010, the Department of Housing and Urban Development found more than 76,000 veterans were homeless in the U-S. For more than 20 years, the Veterans Administration and volunteers have tried to combat this problem with special events called Stand Downs. Held all over the country, Stand Downs offer food, clothes, medical care, and a helping hand to veterans struggling on the street. The Boise VA holds its annual Stand Down Saturday.
John Poarch is a social worker in the homeless program at the Boise Veterans Affairs Office. Poarch says it’s hard to pin down the number of homeless veterans in the Treasure Valley, but he’s trying to reach as many as he can.
A. Through our programs, just here in Boise, we now have 170-ish beds between our programs for folks and we have them all filled, with a significant amount of people waiting to try and get into our programs too. So, I think we’ve done a good job of outreaching to the folks who have been long-term residents of Boise and struggled with homelessness and getting them placed. We do still have a few folks that have been chronically homeless and living in the woods and that kind of stuff that are starting to come out of the woodwork and they’re hard to connect with.
Q. What kind of special problems to people who are homeless and veterans have, that maybe folks who are just homeless don’t face?
A. There is some struggle through being a veteran and having gone to war and those kinds of things that make connecting to society and jobs a little more difficult. I also think it leads itself to substance use a little more than the general population that hasn’t served, due to the psychological struggles of having gone to war. So that creates struggles in maintaining employment, family relations, and those kinds of things. When you struggle with emotional irregularity and then if you’re struggling with substance abuse that alienates folks too, and end up with not a lot of assistance and help out there. That’s when we come in and try to offer those support services when they’ve burned their bridges with family and friends. You can only rely on those folks for so long before they get tired of you leaning on them. That’s where we try to have an open door policy of assisting folks with whatever, financial, mental health, substance abuse issues that they have.
Q. The Stand Down event offers services and folks can take the services they want and go as far as they want to go.
A. Yes and that’s my philosophy with the job we have. The VA provides a lot of opportunities for folks if they want to participate and [we’re] trying to make it comfortable for them to participate in those programs, to get the fullest amount of benefits they can. It works fairly effectively most of the time. When you let people feel like they’re involved in their own treatment and what they’re doing and that they’re respected, they move further, quicker then they do when I try to dictate how treatment should happen for them. It’s been a transition over the last fifteen years or so, for clinicians to start feeling that way and doing that.
Q. Do you have a success story you can relate?
A. We’ve got several, I think. There’s a guy that I now consider a very good friend, who started out struggling with significant substance abuse issues. He came to the VA and needed some detox services and we have a fantastic three-week inpatient substance abuse program. He came into sober housing, for close to two years and he was able to become the house manager. Now he’s got a full-time job, he’s doing fantastic, and just really took advantage of all the resources that are available to him.
Saturday’s Stand Down event will offer free clothes, free medical screenings, free food, help with benefits, even a mobile veterinarian to take care of animal companions of the homeless. The event runs from 10 AM to 2 PM at the Boise Vet Center located at 2424 Bank Drive.
Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio