Grantee Spotlight: HOPE for Boulder County vets

“I think there’s an assumption that our vets are taken care of,” says Lisa Searchinger, Executive Director of HOPE – Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement – a grantee of the Community Foundation Veteran’s Fund

“There’s been so much energy and outreach focused on vets experiencing homelessness, like the VA’s 25 Cities Initiative. But despite programs that prioritize rapid housing for vets who are homeless, there’s a persistent subset of vets in this population who are very difficult to reach.”
Indeed, according to Lisa, about 10% (or 576) HOPE shelter stays are vets. 
“Many of them have been prioritized for housing, although not necessarily in Boulder County where they may wish to be,” continues Lisa, “Still, it’s more difficult to close the loop among vets who are chronically homeless. 
“We have two or three vets for whom we’ve found housing who are still resistant. They’re so deeply traumatized – perhaps beginning with a life event, or their service experience, or both – which compounds how difficult it is to emerge from homelessness.
“They’re often so entrenched in living moment by moment, just focused on getting their basic needs met, that they’re unable to think about their lives down the road. Add to that a distrust of the system that didn’t treat them well, and the fact that there’s no VA in Boulder County, and you’re faced with both emotional barriers and practical barriers, like transportation and long wait times.”
So HOPE goes out into the community to find vets where they are, striving to build trust through individual, one-on-one relationships, and working to help them overcome their barriers. 
“We’ve transported vets to both Denver and Cheyenne for VA services,” says Lisa, also noting the “major obstacles” in the VA system itself. “But if you want routine medical health care, for example, that means setting and keeping regular appointments which, again, some chronically homeless vets may resist.
“Our ultimate goal is to help vets get into housing. To that end, our services range from providing a meal to providing shelter, including emergency medical respite shelter. Last year, we used our Veterans Fund support to house a vet for a couple weeks who was in between housing…he’s stable now, but without our providing bridge housing, he’d still be on the street.
“Being able to provide such gap services and support services – along with problem solving and case management – is key to helping our vets become self-sufficient, hopefully moving past often co-occurring traumas that may have led to a cascade of other events.”
Concludes Lisa, “Homelessness among vets is a perplexing and persistent problem. But we’re actively seeking them out where they are, both during the day and every single night of the year. We’re showing up with them at appointments, sharing their grief and loss, sitting and waiting with them – whether at Anschutz or in Cheyenne, – and pointing them to other service providers. 
“You can’t force anyone, but you can try to establish trust and then help them when they’re ready.”