What It’s Like To Be Homeless

people-850097_1280“Get a job, you bum”!
I slowly open my eyes, hearing a voice and those unkind words in my ears. Not anything I haven’t heard before. What I see is a suit, dark and cheap. Kind of like the ones I used to wear, when I had a job and a life. A face above the suit, nothing remarkable about it, except for the spittle forming at a corner of the mouth. Striped tie hanging down, almost touching my face. I look down along my prone body and see his leg moving back, as if to send send a kick my way. Perhaps to emphasize my ‘bumness’? I move a corner of the blanket I’m under (stolen, I mean donated from a ‘Goodwill’ box), just enough for him to see the switchblade in my hand. Wow, what fast reflexes he has! He is already moving away almost before I can cover up again. But not before I see the anger in his eyes; anger and disgust, that I dare to take up sidewalk space where he has to walk. Another day on the street begins.

I sit up and quickly scan around me, as a soldier might upon hearing a sudden noise. No cops around to try chasing me off before I can gather my things. Shoes still on my feet, blanket untouched. Backpack/pillow unopened; so far so good, looks like I still have all my ‘stuff’. It all does need washing however, so do I. When I can smell myself, I know it’s bad. Yes, reeking might be a better word. It explains how people smell me and wrinkle their noses in disgust even before they see me. Then the reactions get even worse. When I recover from my own stench, faces almost come into view. Nothing out of the ordinary, just random eyes and faces either looking or trying to not be caught looking at me. I hardly recognize faces anymore, too many go by to be anything but a blur. Well I do recognize the cops that usually chase me off, but have enough pity on me to let me move just out of their sight. I also (usually) recognize the one or two people that will put some coins or even a couple of dollars (breakfast!) in my gloved hand. No such luck in that way today, but nothing is missing either. In more good news, it’s not raining and I’m not freezing. Time to get moving and get going, somewhere.

First of course I think about what brought me to this living on the street; no home, family, job or money. For me it was …[Fill in the real stupid reason you ruined your entire life, here]…
Some suggestions: Cheated on spouse/drugs/drinking/stole from work/robbed someone or someplace/drove drunk and hurt or killed someone/hurt a child, well you get the idea. Or get creative and come up with something of your own. Whatever it is, someone has probably done it. Or just maybe it was something done to you, like being a casualty of military service. Or you just didn’t receive the help you needed when you needed it.Yes I am still to this day surprised and saddened at how I ended up like this. Every homeless person thought the same as I did at some point, that things would just work out. They always had. Until they didn’t.

I sling my backpack on and start walking (maybe trudging is more like it? I do have pain in my legs and everywhere else, the price of having a cement bed). I keep my clothes and myself as clean as possible, thanks to the kindness of priests at a nearby church. They let me wash my clothes and myself in their private area inside. As long as I don’t do it more than once or twice a week, the church doesn’t want me becoming a magnet for other homeless. I might not agree with that, but I can understand. I am in no position to argue it anyway. All I have to do is promise to attend services more often, which I do of course. I mean I promise to. The church does sound like a good place to start my busy (yea right) day.
I see a newspaper on top of a garbage can and grab it. Wow, I think it’s from today. I’m never sure what day it actually is, I never need to, but let’s see what’s happening in the world without me. Murders; wars, arrests and politicians making promises. Some things never change. Oh wait, the local team won, that’s different. I sit down on a bench near the church and against my better judgment glance at the ‘Help Wanted’ ads. I don’t expect to find anything, but I have to look, it’s a compulsion. Even though I can’t, I just can’t get my hopes up about anything. It hurts too much after. Hope is one of the many things I can no longer afford. Despite my reluctance, an ad actually catches my eye. It’s for a start-up in the field I used to work. Experience preferred; which I have, open interviews, and it’s only about a mile or so from here! The thoughts swarm (slowly at first, the only thoughts I have had for a while are about food and survival, but quickly gain speed and traction in my head); “what if, what if I actually got a job, this job! What if I could have a life again, a place to live with a roof and a refrigerator? And a bathroom of course”! Oh and keys. [Pop Quiz: how can you tell if you are in jail or homeless? Answer: you don’t have a key that opens anything. I no longer have any keys]. What if…what if… then I look at myself and realize what am I thinking? How am I going to get this or any job? How do I fill out an application with no address, no phone # and no references? With no way of proving I know the work? The next thought is how can I not try? The thought after is in the voice of an old drill sergeant “There you go thinking again”.

I rush into the church and my luck is holding out. I run (stumble?) my way to the priest by the alter and show him the help wanted ad. We talk and he convinces me, and/or I convince myself to go to the interview. He writes down a phone # I can say is mine, then we then say a prayer for my success. I know he is a good man who wants me to get a job and a life again but; I do wonder though if deep down he is praying for me to succeed, so there is one less homeless hanging around. I shave with an old razor and sponge bath in a bathroom sink. After my stomach growls loud enough to be heard, I eat a couple of pieces of bread I am offered, along with a glass of water. I don’t think it was communion bread, but that couldn’t hurt if it was, right? I pull a pair of slacks and a collared shirt out that were buried in my backpack, not too badly wrinkled. I don’t even remember where I got these from. Then the priest comes out with gifts, a tie and a pair of shoes that are just a little big on me (they might have belonged to him, ‘God bless him’). Believe me, too big is a lot better than too small. After I dress, I don’t even recognize myself. That can’t be a bad thing. A final quick prayer and a final “God Bless” and I am on my way to destiny, I hope (uh oh, there’s that word again, hope).

My luck is still holding out, (although I know at some time there will be a price to pay for all this ‘good luck’) it’s not raining. I know where the place is and the walk is not bad at all. I almost feel ‘normal’ and I’m almost smiling. Now I am at the place and handed a clipboard, pen and an application. I look around at all the other hopefuls, I don’t think I look too much worse than them. I fill out the application with the name on the ID (that has a pasted picture of me) and matching social security card I got from somewhere. I put down the phone # the priest gave me as well as an old address I used to live at. I finish and hand it back to the receptionist, who actually smiles at me! I then dash into the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror, thinking of all the ways I could improve myself. I haven’t even finished this list in my head when my ‘name’ is called.

I actually remember how this goes, shake hands with the ‘younger than me’ interviewer and exchange ‘how are you’s’. Then the usual questions; which I have no trouble answering, even surprising myself (I had been told many times I should have been a sales person). Then the question came I had been dreading; “Why are you no longer employed at your last job”? The bull**** I came up with was that did not leave on the best of terms as I had quit to start my own similar business, which my former employer didn’t appreciate. Therefore they may not be ‘honest’ if asked about my work there. I then had to say that my business was not successful. This line actually seemed to work, somehow. Then the interview was over; we shook hands and again I actually received a smile, while being told that I should get a call from them in a couple of days. I think I may have even smiled back! I walked out smiling at the receptionist, trying but failing to not deceive myself into thinking that I could actually have a chance at getting the job. I’m surprised my mouth doesn’t hurt from all the smiling.

The next day was pouring rain, so I stayed huddled in my sleeping bag, only interrupted by the quick runs to snatch some food. As the interviewer had said they would call me in ‘a couple of days’ and having had better dreams than usual, I went back to the church two days later to find out if the company had called. The priest saw me and ran over. “Where have you been? The company called you later that day, they wanted to talk to you again”! “They must have really liked you”. He then dragged me inside to a room where I could have some privacy and handed me a phone, “Call them”! So I did. My heart sank and my head exploded as the voice on the other end told me how impressed they had been with me and that they had wanted to talk to me soon as they could. But when they didn’t hear from me, they had to offer the position to someone else. They would of course keep my application on file. Somehow I managed to not throw the phone against a wall, but I did rush out of there before I could do something not nice in a place where one should not do not nice things.

I managed to go to sleep that night on my concrete bed (with one eye open of course) , almost hoping someone would try something with me so I could hit them. I knew… I knew… I just knew to not get my hopes up and that bad luck or just my luck would strike. I still don’t know how I slept with all the self-recriminations running through my mind. But I did. Then I woke up to an all too familiar refrain in my ears:
“Get a job you bum”!
My hand tightened around my switchblade under the blanket and all I could think was:
“Why do I have a sudden urge to kill him”?

by Larry Shields
All rights reserved by author

Housing community for homeless veterans opens doors

HINES, Ill. (August 20, 2015) — Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, local dignitaries, Veterans from all branches of the military, dedicated investors, the media, and members of many areas of the development team gathered today to mark the opening of Freedom’s Path at Hines, an affordable housing facility for homeless and disabled Veterans. As the first of seven similar projects by developer Communities for Veterans to open its doors, the magnitude of what was accomplished was apparent in the smiles, handshakes, and moving words of several speakers. But there is an even bigger cause for celebration; 72 highly deserving Veterans will now have a place to call home.
“This day is a celebration of all the hard work it took over 3.5 years to bring Freedom’s Path at Hines to fruition. But most importantly, this day is a celebration that 72 Veterans who raised their right hand and took an oath to defend our country and have now fallen on hard times, now have a secure place to call home with all of the supportive services they need to carry on meaningful and productive lives,” said Adam Gratzer of Communities for Veterans (CFV).
Plans for Freedom’s Path at Hines were officially set into motion in 2012 after Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits were obtained from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). Additional funding was later secured through the Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit (IAHTC) also administered by IHDA, Department of Veteran Affairs, Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Chicago’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP), Cook County HOME program, bridge funding through J.P. Morgan Chase, equity through RBC Capital Markets, as well as developer contributions.

The Enhanced-Use Lease site consists of approximately 4.6 acres located along the southern boundary of the Hines Veterans Administration Medical Campus at 5000 South 5th Avenue in building 240. Like the other CFV communities around the country, this strategic location on previously unused space directly on the Hines VA medical campus improves access to desperately needed and well-earned supportive services provided through the VA, as well as third party non-profit and governmental entities.
“Purpose is something that is important to every Veteran, and Freedom’s Path at Hines will help residents find their purpose again. They will be able to accomplish this through direction from case managers, service providers, and peer support that’s now within easy reach,” Gratzer said.
Designed to achieve a LEED for Homes Silver certification, Freedom’s Path at Hines consists of an elevator-equipped three-story building of approximately 63,000 square feet housing 72 private units with private baths. Each of the 36 studio (429-square-feet) and 36 one-bedroom (620- to 700-square-feet) units features Energy Star-rated appliances, dishwasher, garbage disposal, carpeting, window blinds, and central air conditioning.

Community amenities include onsite management, a fitness center, a social/clubroom, technology center, laundry facility, and elevator as well as communal areas and break-out rooms for therapy and special needs services. Outside the project will feature ample parking, a covered entry driveway, seating area with fireplace, and a basketball court.
With a priority to serve some of the most vulnerable, at-risk, low income and/or disabled Veterans who are able to live independently, rental subsidies will be offered through Project Based HUD, VA Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers administered by the Housing Authority of Cook County. This ensures residents pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities.
Freedom’s Path at Hines was developed by Sarasota, Fla.-based Communities for Veterans (CFV), a collaborative partnership of industry-leading providers of housing development, including Beneficial Communities and Solutions for Veterans. Led by two Veterans, Craig Taylor, Air Force (Vietnam Era) and Gratzer, Army (Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003), CFV collectively offers decades of comprehensive expertise in multifamily and needs-based real estate. This includes piecing together various funding sources and programs, including the VA’s Building Utilization Review and Repurposing (BURR) Initiative, federal and state tax credits, Federal Home Loan Bank(FHLB) of Chicago’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) Grant, HOME program, and conventional lending all in an effort to accomplish big goals through public-private partnerships with the VA and various other local, state, and federal government agencies.

“Collaborations like this keep our country strong, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it,” said Gratzer. “Seeing firsthand the public and private sector come together to pick up the flag and fight for Veteran freedom is a real honor, but the true reward will be seeing and hearing the success stories of the Veterans benefiting from living in Freedom’s Path at Hines.”
For more information on the grand opening or for community information, contact Gratzer at 941-929-1270 ext.125 or agratzer@cfveterans.com. For more information about Communities for Veterans, visit www.cfveterans.com.

Next CVO Meeting at Jesse Brown VA October 18th

The next meeting of the Coalition of Veterans Organizations (CVO) will be held on Saturday, October 18th from 10 AM to 12:30 PM in the 2nd Floor Conference Room of Jesse Brown VA Medical Center at Ogden and Polk in Chicago. There will be parking validation.

The agenda will include a sum-up of our work on the VA Crisis, the VA Crisis Hot Line, Homelessness, and more.

As always, Coffee and Donuts will be served.

Bruce Parry
Dr. Bruce E. Parry
CVO Chair

Winter Standdown December 13, 2013


for homeless Veterans

December 13, 2013


Northwest Armory

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  • Winter Clothing
  • Lunch
  • Social Security Applications
  • VA Hospital Referrals
  • VA Regional Office
  • IL Department of Employment Security
  • Flu Shots
  • Haircuts
    and More……….

Download Flyer

Symposium on Homelessness 2012

-Please join us-

Thurs., Nov. 29th

8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Weiss Memorial Hospital

4646 N Marine Dr., Chicago, IL (773) 878-8700 // (800) 503-1234

-Presenters include-

Veterans Affairs Homeless Department

City of Chicago Department of Human Services

Warrior to Warrior Soldiers Project Heartland Alliance


Full federal funding of VA health care – including mental health care for all veterans without further payment.

Mandatory VA Healthcare Funding: Currently, VA healthcare is funded through a process that requires Congressional debate every year. This means that the VA healthcare budget is a political football tossed back and forth year after year. Over the last five years, a movement has grown to make VA healthcare funding what is called an “entitlement.” In Congressional jargon, an entitlement is something that is automatically funded unless Congress takes action, the exact opposite of what happens now. Instead of being an annual political football, VA healthcare would be funded by a formula.

mandatory funding

Mandatory Funding for VA Healthcare
Coalition of Veterans Organizations
March 19, 2007

VA healthcare funding by Congress is “discretionary” funding. By this, we mean that each year, the VA healthcare is funded according to the judgment of Congress and the President. As a result, VA healthcare funding is a political football, debated each year according to the political needs of the Administration and Congress.

Veterans’ call for mandatory funding means that VA healthcare funding would become an “entitlement.” In Congress, an entitlement is funded each year according to a formula. It is not subject to political debate. The formula Veterans are calling for would include three parts: the number of Veterans using the VA, the cost of actually treating a Veteran, and an annual adjustment for increases in providing medical care.

The number of Veterans using the VA is a straightforward projection the VA makes every year anyway. The cost of actually treating a veteran is already known. Current funding is insufficient to cover the actual costs of covering Veterans and is leading to the cost cuts in services provided to veterans. The mandatory funding bill needs to have a one-time increase in funding to make sure the real costs of treating Veterans is funded. Increases in the cost of healthcare each year are also well known. That is how insurance companies determine how much to raise their rates. The significant increases in recent years in the VA healthcare budget have not been enough to cover these yearly increases in healthcare costs. The GAO has pointed out that recent VA projections of healthcare costs have seriously underestimated actual costs. The mandatory funding bill must ensure that this is corrected immediately.

This year, the Democrats have proposed a VA healthcare budget of $37.1 billion for fiscal year 2008. That is an increase of $4.8 billion (a 14.8 percent increase over fiscal year 2007). The President has proposed a budget of $34.2 billion (an increase of 5.5 percent over 2007). The contrast between these offers gives some idea of how the political process makes VA healthcare funding a political football.
Veterans and the major Veterans organizations have called for mandatory VA healthcare funding. “The DAV and other groups have long urged Congress to enact legislation that will provide a reliable, predictable funding stream for veterans’ health care. Assured funding will enable the VA to efficiently and effectively plan for and meet the growing needs of our nation’s sick and disabled veterans, both now and in the future,” said the DAV National Commander Bradley S. Barton recently.
The Mandatory VA Healthcare Funding bill before this Congress (the 100th) is HR 1382 Sponsored by Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-NY). There are no co-sponsors for this bill. It uses the formula outlined above. While it does not call explicitly for a one-time increase in funding, that is built in to the formula it uses. Mandatory funding bills have been put forward in each Congress since 2002.

Another bill before the House Veterans Affairs Committee was submitted by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). This could be called the “Not-quite Mandatory Funding Bill” HR 1041. It sets up a board to determine VA healthcare budget needs and requires the President to submit that as his VA healthcare budget. Additionally, it also calls for Vets to face no more than 30-day wait to get into a VA.
One politically connected person has suggested that in order to make VA funding truly “mandatory,” a Trust Fund would have to be set up with an independent funding source. This has, to our knowledge, never been proposed in legislation. The idea is similar to the Social Security, Medicare and Federal Highway Trust Funds. It would be funded by a tax and the funds could not be used for any other purpose than VA healthcare. A tax on military hardware procurement has been suggested as a possible source of funds. The idea behind this is that without a Trust Fund, any Congress can undo what another Congress has done, so VA healthcare would still be, in fact, a political football. Congress has been much less willing to tamper with Trust Funds, so this would better ensure consistent VA healthcare funding.

The key idea here is that the VA should not be the one to determine who they treat. Congress should tell the VA who to treat and then the VA should do it. Thus, Congress should set the eligibility requirements for VA healthcare.
Eligibility for VA healthcare should be extended to all veterans who have been honorably discharged from the military service, including the regular, reserve and National Guard components. There should be no income provisions or “means test” and there should be no exclusions or divisions among veterans as to who shall be treated.
This specifically means that the 2-year limitation on VA healthcare that has been imposed on veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan will be eliminated and they, like veterans of other wars, will have lifetime access to the VA.
It also means that the “freeze” or exclusion of so-called “Priority 8” veterans would be eliminated. There would be no longer a need to have any income-related criteria for receiving VA healthcare.
Modern warfare has meant a drastic change in the needs of Veterans. Many more Veterans are living after devastating wounds received in combat. In World War II there were two casualties for every fatality. In Vietnam, it was 3 to 1. Currently, it is running 16 to 1! This means that men and women are returning to civilian life with devastating and lifetime wounds—both physical and mental. Veterans with shattered bodies need the VA specifically to deal with the kinds of conditions that one rarely sees outside the military. The VA has always excelled at this.
But modern warfare is also devastating to the mental state of those serving and we are seeing more men and women returning from war with extreme and severe mental and emotional disorders than ever before. Many of these conditions take years to develop and to manifest themselves with sufficient severity for the veteran to seek help. Setting time limitations is a lesson unlearned from previous conflicts and absolutely demonstrates the VA’s inability to care for the wounded. In addition limitations cut off the veterans possibility for recovery and rehabilitation. Recent legislation has ensured that mental health and physical health are seen as equivalent. This law must be applied to VA healthcare.
There are many more women in combat than ever before. The VA must recognize the expanded needs of women and their particular forms of trauma. In addition to combat-induced suffering of combat wounds and mental and emotional illness, women are subjected to sexual abuse and even assault.
No legislation has yet been proposed that covers everything said above. Two bills, HR 612 (Rep. Filner, D-CA, Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee) and S 383 (Akaka, D-HI, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee) calls for extending the 2-year limitation for veterans that served in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2 to 5 years. We consider this totally insufficient, inadequate and uncaring. Another bill, HR 463 (Rep. Rothman, D-NJ), calls for the elimination of the freeze on Priority 8 veterans.

Reform of funding and full accounting for all VA mental health services for veterans. Scores of veterans—many returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—do not receive the mental heath care they need, despite front-page stories detailing the horrors these veterans face.

Ending veteran homelessness

Amend the Per Diem Grant to allocate funding to each state annually to care for their homeless     Veterans: Currently each year grant proposals from all over the nation are  submitted for approval. Only a small number of states are awarded  funds. This process fails to meet the needs of more than half the  nation’s homeless Veterans.
Homelessness Coalition of Veterans Organizations March 16, 2007
According to statistics there will be between 200k and 300k homeless veterans on the streets of America. In the state of Ill there are over _____ homeless veterans, with close to 20k in the Chicagoland area. In the state of Ill there are less than 150 beds for the homeless  supported by the per diem grant issued by the VA to help the homeless. The vast majority of homeless veterans suffer from some form of metal  illness accompanied by substance abuse problems. This dual diagnosis  often started in the service but because of the severity of the  problems the veteran cannot make the claim for services from the VA by  him or her self. Programs serving homeless veterans are consistently under funded. For  example, according to the Dept of Veterans’ Affairs only 100k veterans  are served by homeless services and community-based programs, leaving  80% of the homeless veterans population without services. Again with  only 158 beds for 20,000 homeless veterans one can easily see that the  need for additional resources is urgent. (source: Chi. Continuum of  Care) Many veterans completing treatment programs at VISN 12 facilities, no  matter how well intentioned, are doomed to rehospitalization/relapse,  for there is nowhere for them to go in the community except to the  circumstances and conditions that are part of their destabilization. We  need to double the number of per diem beds immediately. One way to do  this is to encourage non-VA service providers to apply for them and  have an open application process so that those service providers with  veterans on their caseloads can continue to receive their services in a  stable, secure and sober environment and not be overwhelmed.
Homelessness/Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
With over 76% of the homeless not being treated for their mental  illness and substance abuse problems and with a cut back in the  services available at the VA, the need to utilize the monies allocated  for mental health services is critical and obvious. The fact that $42  million was returned to the general fund that was earmarked for these  programs is a death sentence for many vets and worse a living  prison/hell for others and their families. Community based services by  non-VA service providers such as Thresholds, Haymarket, and Bobby  Wright Mental Health services could bring immediate relief to  Chicago/Illinois Veterans.
The Disparity
With the not-so-new news that Illinois is next to last in the granting  of service connection for PTSD and other ailments, many veterans are  deprived of those services and resources needed to overcome their  service-incurred ailments. This delay in treatment and means of support  devastate the veteran and their family and is a major factor in  homelessness, incarnation and—in the long term—more costly to treat  once service connection is finally granted. I don t think that there is  another place where doctors findings are routinely negated by  adjudicators without medical training. Claims that are remanded by the  BVA, 3 or more times over a time span of 10, 15 or twenty years are  still waiting resolution. This situation often becomes the biggest  stressor in the veteran’s life. This situation demands that the resources needed to finalize claims  remanded more than 3 times or that have been in adjudication for more  than five years be brought on line immediately. For unless it is the  unspoken goal to see deserving veterans and their families die off or  to continue to live in the darkness and agony known only to those that  suffer from this shortcoming on the part of the VA, corrective measures  must be taken immediately. There are several reports that state that the VA is unprepared to deal  with the demands for services from Americas veterans and that the  projected budget is flawed and based on false assumptions. This—coming  from the inspector general and the Kennedy school of Government at  Harvard University—should tell our elected officials that we have  serious problems now. If nothing is done we are going to have a  disaster in the near future. We must plan for the treatment of veterans using real numbers and  guarantees, whether thru a trust fund or other means. We must roll back  some of these new policies such as 2 years of health care for our new  vets, the means test and categories for veterans. A grateful nation and compassionate knowledgeable elected officials  will settle for nothing less. Nor will we, the veterans of America,  their families and their sincere supporters, settle for less.
David J. Rogers C.V.O.