MATTOON — The Salvation Army Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) office in Coles County has been working with a local partner organization to quickly secure housing for homeless veterans since this office opened more than four years ago.
These efforts have enabled Coles County to reach the one-year mark of having U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness "functional zero" certification regarding homeless veterans. Functional zero homelessness is when a community, at any point in time, does not have more people experiencing homelessness than it can house in an average month.
SSVF Case Manager Dana Tell, who is based in Mattoon, said this federal agency certified Coles County's homeless veteran support services in July. She emphasized that "functional zero" does not mean there are no homeless veterans in the community.
"It means we have a clear path to get them housing if they do become homeless and they are on the streets," Tell said, adding that they have assisted approximately a dozen homeless veterans during the last year in Coles County. She said their goal is for any occurrences of veteran homelessness in Coles County to be "rare, brief and not reoccurring."
Tell said her predecessor, Jarrick Honn, in the SSVF office played a big part in the certification. She said their partners include local police, the Haven homeless shelter in Mattoon, Coles County Veterans Support Coalition, Embarras River Basin Agency, and CEFS Economic Opportunity Corp. She said they also work closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Causes of homelessness among veterans vary, Tell said. For example, she said a veteran might develop post traumatic stress disorder from being in combat and later start self-medicating to deal with this condition. She said some homeless veterans have been found sleeping in their cars in parking lots or even living in tents in the Mattoon area.
Coles County Veterans Support Coalition member Blake Leitch said the first veteran they helped after forming a few years ago was a man seeking donations alongside the Walmart parking lot. Leitch said he approached him and learned that he was a dislocated worker. Leitch said they bought the man a restaurant gift card and referred him to the Salvation Army.
Leitch said the Veterans Support Coalition always verifies that those seeking its assistance are veterans. He said some veterans become homeless due to poor life choices, so the coalition ensures that any rent, utility or other assistance it might provide is also accompanied by life skills training.
"We want to make sure we are doing our due diligence to help them in the right way," Leitch said.
Tell said her office has helped homeless veterans with tasks ranging from obtaining new identification cards and finding their military discharge papers to securing quality long term housing. Tell said she can usually get homeless veterans into housing within two weeks.
Those interested in being pre-screened for possible homeless veteran services from the SSVF can call 217-278-9897.