LAFAYETTE, Ind. — To most Lafayette residents, cooler evenings and crimson-colored trees mean fall is in full swing.

But for those experiencing homelessness, the change in season is a warning sign that winter and its cold, hard nights are just around the corner.

Many barriers exist between adequate, affordable housing and Lafayette’s homeless population, particularly those who are veterans, said Jennifer Layton, executive director of LTHC Homeless Services, also known as Lafayette Transitional Housing Center.

October marks the fifth year the local non-profit has administered Supportive Services for Veteran Families, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs program aimed to help service members over those barriers, which include substance abuse, a lack of employment and chronic health issues, Layton said.

“Sometimes people have all of those things, so it makes it very difficult,” Layton said. “But that’s why we’re supportive, we’re here to help people through the system and get them into housing and connected to the care they need.”

LTHC Homeless Services recently received nearly $200,000 to continue the program locally for another year. Nationwide, the VA awarded $343 million in grants to 288 local non-profits, according to a news release.

Through the program, the agency over the last four years has served 261 homeless veterans and their families, comprising roughly 10 percent of all its clients, Layton said.

In addition to in-house resources, case managers connect service members to healthcare, employment and landlords in the community to get them stable housing as soon as possible, Layton added.

“Veterans can walk into here because we have meals here, we have showers here, we have laundry here,” she said. “We’re here to make sure people have their basic needs met and support them in a way that we can care for them over the long-term, get them into housing and keep them there. We’re not the VA, we’re a local organization here in Lafayette. We’re much less intimidating.”

Michelle Reynolds, executive director of Lafayette Housing Authority, said veterans are assigned additional points that move them up the agency’s waiting list for Section 8 vouchers.

At least 28 chronically homeless veterans in Lafayette also are housed through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, Reynolds said.

“You have an increased number of service men and women who come back from serving, who become homeless. We see disabilities in a lot of our older veterans, but we’ve seen an increased number of younger veterans that are having a hard time integrating back into society.”

A common challenge among homeless veterans, regardless of their age, is substance abuse, Layton said. But struggling service members come in a variety of genders, races and backgrounds, she added.”We don’t have one picture of what a homeless veteran looks like because it’s everyone,” she said. “It’s men and women, it’s old and young. There is no one-size-fits-all for anyone that’s experiencing homelessness, especially for our veterans.”

Considering the impact of homelessness on veterans, Reynolds said providing a warm bed and a roof over is “the least we can do.”

“It’s serving a need for people who have served our country and made that sacrifice,” she said.


Source: (Lafayette) Journal & Courier, http://on.jconline.com/2yCuoKJ


Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the (Lafayette) Journal & Courier.