Bill Ward served in the army from 1974-76 and went into construction afterwards, but recent health issues forced him out of his job and into the path of potential homelessness.
But Ward is not homeless thanks to the “Pittsburgh Rapid Results Veterans’ Homeless Boot Camp.”
The Boot Camp “is effectively like a spark to really galvanize the community to end veterans’ homelessness by 2015 and really kind of bring everyone together for a common goal and a common cause,” Jesse Rodriguez, operations director of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, said.
The initiative joins the city and county along with service providers to alleviate veteran homelessness through various programs. It stemmed from First Lady Michelle Obama’s launch of the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness by December 2015.
“I had met a counselor, Tom Pipak…and he said ‘here’s a possibility,’” Ward said. “And it turned out to be more than a possibility – it’s a reality.”
Ward’s story is not unique – there were 647 homeless vets in the Pittsburgh region when the program launched August 8th.
Now 100 days into the challenge, 274 veterans have received some form of service – 125 of which were homeless vets who received permanent housing.
“Through the work of HUD and the local VA, we’ve been able to identify key players in the community to bring everyone together to break down barriers,” Rodriguez said. “And a lot of times what happens (is) there might be a duplication of effort – we may not have the best resources or we may not be making the best use of our resources.”
Rodriguez said much veteran homelessness is the result of misunderstanding – vets not knowing that they are eligible for VA benefits and pensions, or that they can reach out for help.
He said a diverse group of vets has asked for help since the program’s launch.
“Often times people think of homeless individuals as one person, which in fact ‘a homeless person’ is often a family, it could be grandma and grandpa, it could be they’re looking after an elderly individual, it could be they’re taking care of multiple children,” Rodriguez said. “So the face of homelessness is diverse and often does have many families.”
As part of the effort, Mayor Bill Peduto said he will be joining Dr. James Withers this winter to give medical care to homeless people throughout the city. He asked the crowd to think about what it would be like to not have somewhere to go with the cold temperatures.
“How many people thought what it was going to be like that night to sleep on the streets?” Peduto asked. “To be in a blanket that had already been soaked down by the rain earlier in the day that wouldn’t be dry and to sort of huddle around some building or somewhere to be able to try to get shelter – well for so many people, that is not just one night, that is every day.”