Charles Anthony Love looked every bit a United States veteran as he surveyed the range of service opportunities at Columbia’s Transitions center Wednesday afternoon.
Sporting a Marine Corp hat and T-shirt and maintaining a frame befitting his five years of military service, the 60-year-old expressed amazement at the range of available services for veterans he never knew of before.
And while he’s long received a pension, Love was not aware of other opportunities that could help him find permanent housing or job training assistance after he became homeless a few years ago.
On Wednesday, Love joined hundreds more homeless veterans who were connected with a range of eligible services when the United Way of the Midlands, The Dorn VA Medical Center, Transitions and the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless held the area’s first SC Home Front outreach.
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The event was a continuation of the area’s homeless outreach efforts and targeted homeless veterans. The intent was to bring them under the same roof as case workers, housing specialists, medical liaisons and link them with a range of available benefits.
“This event is about compassion and service for those who have served us,” said MACH board chairwoman Lila Anna Sauls.
An emphasis on Wednesday’s event was helping the veterans secure suitable housing. That’s in keeping with a national initiative by the VA and its partners to end veteran homelessness by 2015 and reflects research gathered in recent area homeless studies.
The Midlands most recent homeless count in January showed there were about 50 veterans sleeping in places outside of shelters. The United Way began working with the VA staff two months ago after learning there were vacancies in local housing programs that were specifically for veterans.
“Typically we estimate the count to be an underestimate of those experiencing homelessness throughout the year since the count is only a snapshot of a single day based on those who we located and volunteer to be surveyed,” said the United Way’s Jennifer Moore, who coordinated Wednesday’s event.
Wednesday’s activities begin with a grilled lunch served by Columbia Firefighters before the veterans visited the various service providers. In many cases, they were able to receive same-day service and housing.
“We are actively working to fill open vouchers for permanent housing dedicated for veterans at Columbia Housing Authority and also to fill the open transitional housing slots at Christ Central’s Transitional Retreat (in Lexington),” Moore said.
Additional services offered on Wednesday included health and medical benefit assistance, legal and spiritual counseling, financial claims assistance, suicide prevention, eligibility screening, employment program information and job assistance.
“I was surprised and happy as well,” Love said of the range of available service agencies and opportunities he found at the center. “Through (the visit) here, my awareness has been broadened.”
David Omura, associate director of the Dorn VA Medical Center, said the day was significant step in making veterans more aware of various avenues for help.
“We have a large population with our catchment area of veterans who have not taken advantage of services that are available to them,” Omura said. “We’re trying to get the word out and we wanted people to see what’s available so that we can help them.”