Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma receives grant to help veterans

Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma has received an almost $1.5 million Department of Veterans Affairs grant for 2017. In total, the agency has received $5.8 million to help end veteran homelessness through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program under the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We believe it’s totally possible to end homelessness for veterans, and this is just one part of the puzzle,” said John Rourke, who managed Goodwill’s grant program its first three years.

Goodwill’s central Oklahoma offices service 37 counties. The grant covers six counties: Canadian, Cleveland, Lincoln, Logan, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie.

“With the SSVF grant, we focus on veteran heads of households who are currently either on the street or imminently homeless,” Rourke said.

Imminent homelessness can occur for many reasons, such as a lease ending, falling behind on rent or mortgage payments or temporarily living with family, Rourke said.

“People we help are categorized as low-income or extremely low-income,” he added, “which means they earn $1,300 per month or less.”

Grant funds also can be used as temporary financial assistance for homeless or imminently homeless veterans in crisis.

“This happens on a case-by-case basis and can help with payment of rent, deposits for housing or utilities or payment of utilities in arrears,” said SSVF program manager Donnie Lewis, who works with Rourke and took the helm of the grant initiative several months ago. “In some cases, it is also available to assist with transportation in the form of bus passes.”

Finding housing for homeless veterans is the first step to long-term stability.

“We are a Housing First program, meaning that we try to rapidly rehouse people,” Lewis said of the federal initiative that’s implemented through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s VA Supportive Housing program. “Second, we work on wraparound services to help keep them there.”

Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma locates homeless and imminently homeless veterans in several ways.

“We canvass areas where homeless people are known to live, trying to find people, and we hand out backpacks with essential items in them,” Lewis said.

Goodwill helps veterans in need at the Oklahoma City Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System’s Medical Center at 921 NE 13th St. Additionally, Goodwill partners with the HeartLine 2-1-1 hotline, which veterans and their families can call to be connected with Goodwill and other support organizations and services such as City Rescue Mission and Homeless Alliance.

“In our outreach to the homeless veteran community, we try to let them know that if they call 211, they will get linked in with services,” Rourke said. “Our services and others.”

The nonprofit also performs outreach at events like OKC VA’s Sooner Stand Down, which provides emergency shelter and food assistance, medical and dental services and referrals and legal aid to in-need veterans.

“When veterans move into an apartment, we provide them with a move-in kit that has pots and pans, utensils, oftentimes a bed — basic essentials,” Rourke said. “We have a partnership with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma to fill their fridges so they have some food to eat while they get on their feet.”

But simply putting a roof over someone’s head isn’t enough, Lewis explained.

“Often when we’re holding a drive, we are met with public outrage about our veterans and why they aren’t being taken care of by the VA,” Lewis said. “The reality is that many veterans may not be VA-eligible. … For this initiative, veterans are only required to have served one day of active duty for purposes other than training and can have any classification of discharge except dishonorable discharge.”

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Print headline: Moving in, Goodwill Industries helps local homeless veterans and their families through its VA-sponsored grant.

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