RMHS Is There For Veterans Who Are Unhoused
Each of the military veterans at the Springs Rescue Mission on this cold February day had a story. And Scott Correa, a Rocky Mountain Human Services outreach specialist, was there for all of it.
How long have you been at the shelter? How did you get here? Did you serve in a combat zone?
The stories came spilling out -- stories of service in the armed forces, job loss, trauma, substance use, and difficulties in penetrating bureaucracy to get health care, food assistance and housing.
“Listening is such an important part of my job,” said Scott, who works for RMHS’ Homes for All Veterans program. “It’s how you build trust and really learn about what that person is experiencing.”
RMHS’ Homes for All Veterans program is an important service for veterans who need help finding or keeping housing. We meet veterans where they are by going to shelters, for instance, to take applications for assistance. It’s one of the many ways in which RMHS works to ease the stress that veterans in need may be experiencing. Along with his laptop and forms, Scott brings socks, hand warmers and gloves so he can offer them to people he is assisting. Again, HAV is focused not only on filling out forms and determining eligibility, but on the person, offering assistance in ways that may seem small, but may be meaningful to a person experiencing stress.
In addition, our staff members are part of the Colorado Springs community, partnering with other agencies as they work to keep unhoused people from falling through the cracks.
“I think collaboration is so important because we can’t solve the issue of homelessness alone,” said Mike Neumann, Housing Specialist for HAV. “The problem and the challenges that we’re facing right now are so large that we have to work together and we have to think about this as a unified front.”
RMHS and HAV supported 1,217 veterans in Colorado during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. They have served in the military and are unhoused or at risk of becoming homeless. Of those, RMHS helped 400 veterans and their families remain in permanent housing, and helped 817 veterans and their families who were unsheltered quickly find housing. RMHS operates HAV statewide, with offices in Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo, Grand Junction and northern Colorado.
HAV can assist income-qualified veterans with housing security deposits, rent, transportation fees, such as bus passes and car repair, utility deposits and utility costs.
“Ideally, we’re trying to get everyone stably housed,” says Alicia Padilla, HAV Intake Supervisor.
On the same day that Scott is working with veterans in the Colorado Springs homeless shelter to connect them with help, Mike is meeting with a group of housing navigators and community members to build support and consensus around ways to address homelessness in the Pikes Peak region.
Sharing coffee and bagels with a half dozen community partners in-person, and another half dozen attending virtually, members of the Colorado Springs Housing Navigation Collaborative brainstormed about ways to explain their work to a broader audience at a forum in March.
They were talking about how to describe a system that participating agencies use to prioritize the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. They also want to hear from landlords and property
agents about what collaborative members can do to assuage concerns about renting to the people they work with. Again, it’s an effort to ease the process that veterans go through in seeking housing.
“We need to ask ‘what are your roadblocks,’“ Mike said. “And figure out ways to get around them.”
Back at the shelter, Scott has not even opened his laptop when a man is tapping his shoulder.
“I heard you are here to see veterans,” he said. “I’m trying to find some place to live. I’ve been here seven days.”
It was a busy afternoon at the Springs Rescue Mission, and Scott stayed well past the time he had planned to leave so he could speak with everyone who was waiting to see him. He knows that reaching veterans when they are ready to talk to him is an important part of the job. Being available makes the process go more smoothly.
Sometimes, he said, it takes a veteran seeing Scott come to the shelter a few times before that veteran will step forward and ask for help. Scott is patient, respectful and open.
Among the first people to sit down with Scott is a 51-year-old veteran who used to have a part-time telemarketing job that just didn’t pay enough to keep him in his apartment. He has been at the shelter for two months. Another had been living with friends and paying $400 a month for that space when he lost his job. He says he has alcohol issues that he’s working on through a program at the shelter. Another tells about difficult life experiences that includes loss of family members, an aging recreational vehicle, and the inability to find housing.
Scott asks questions and does some initial quick research on the spot to see if the veteran sitting in the chair in front of him could potentially qualify for services. He listens, attentively and with respect.
“It’s about building trust and rapport,” Scott said. “People don’t care what you know until they know you care.”