In Chicago, approximately 1,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Veterans often become homeless due to war-related disabilities and post-traumatic stress, and they currently comprise almost 10% of the homeless population. Approximately 90% of homeless veterans were honorably discharged from military service and more than 1/3 of them served in a combat zone during their military service.
HOW has been working with veterans since our inception. Recently, we have become acutely aware of the unique and specialized needs of homeless veterans and their families. We have created the position of Veterans Services Coordinator (VSC) to work directly with veterans and to be a subject matter expert to train fellow HOW staff. From modest beginnings, HOW has ambitious plans to support the federal 25 Cities Initiative and Mayor Emmanuel’s plan to house all homeless veterans in Chicago.
Yolanda’s story illustrates the struggles many veterans face and HOW’s capacity to help:
Growing up, Yolanda lived with her family on Army bases around the country. They settled in Chicago in time for Yolanda to attend Unity Catholic Girls High School on the city’s south side. After graduation, she joined the U.S. Air Force and served an Airman first class (A1C) attached to a Combat Support Group at Ellsworth Air Force Base South Dakota.
After she was honorably discharged, Yolanda moved to Atlanta, Georgia to begin a new life. However, after a string of abusive relationships and struggles with addiction, Yolanda returned home to Chicago. Unable to stay with family, Yolanda and her young son Mecca went to stay at a local emergency shelter. They connected Yolanda with HOW.
At HOW, Yolanda moved into her first apartment and met Simonia, her intensive case manager. With Simonia’s gentle guidance Yolanda and Mecca have made the most of their time at HOW. Yolanda attended recovery groups, peer chef, and positive parenting classes among others. Mecca joined the after-school academic program and is now receiving all As and Bs on his report card and is planning on following his mother by joining the Air Force. Working as a home health aid, Yolanda is planning on becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) with the help of HOW’s Jobs Program.
But, Yolanda’s journey is not complete. Working with Simonia, Yolanda is connecting to the VA to receive, for the first time, her full Veteran’s benefits. She also is joining HOW’s veterans support group so that she can share her success with other vets.
According to Yolanda, “Simonia is wonderful. She is the one person I can talk to without feeling shame or judgement. I don’t know where I would be without Simonia and HOW.”
Resources for veterans:
City of Chicago Veterans Resources
The Catholic Charities Veterans Resources
State of Illinois Veterans Resources
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs