Veterans program provides help for homeless

EVERETT — When members of the military leave the service, there are a number of programs to help them readjust to civilian life, including job hunting services through WorkSource’s Serve Center, benefit programs from the Veterans Administration and social groups like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A few veterans, however, leave the service with more critical needs and end up homeless.

That’s where Jerry Gadek steps in.

As a service officer with Snohomish County’s Veterans Assistance Program, Gadek is a point person for the social needs of veterans in Snohomish County who are at risk of homelessness, addiction or mental illness, all of which tend to compound each other.

Four years ago, Gadek, who was working for the Salvation Army, connected with his counterparts at Catholic Community Services of Western Washington to organize the Snohomish County Veterans Homelessness Committee.

“It was formed as a direct response to then-Secretary (of Veterans Affairs Eric) Shinseki’s call to end veteran homelessness in five years,” Gadek said.

It’s an umbrella organization focused on action, even at the expense of structure (it has no designated leadership). It draws on the existing network of case workers and professionals to make sure veterans can get the services they need from those who are best positioned to provide them.

Today, 18 organizations are represented on the committee, including government groups such as WorkSource, the state’s employment portal; nonprofits such as Bridgeways and the YWCA; and military-specific organizations such as Naval Station Everett’s Fleet and Family Support program.

In 2013, an annual Point In Time count identified 99 veterans among the county’s homeless population. So the group launched the “Housing the 99” initiative, setting a target during the coming year to identify and help 99 homeless veterans and their families find housing.

In 2013, the group helped 112 veterans, including 24 families with children.

“We immediately restarted it out of the gate in 2014,” Gadek said.

It’s one example of a program working to solve a specific problem. Often, however, veterans have multiple issues. A case worker who helps a veteran with one problem needs to know where to refer him or her for other kinds of help.

Of veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 26 percent have a service-connected disability, compared with 14 percent of the total living population of veterans, Gadek said.

In addition, the number of female veterans rose 141 percent nationally between 2006 and 2010, Gadek said.

“They’re the hardest to find, because they’re not coming forward and saying, ‘I’m homeless.’ They’re still trying to figure it out,” Gadek said.

And because every veteran’s experience is unique, it requires all agencies and organizations to stay nimble to find and help veterans who need it.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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