CHARLESTON, West Virginia — Jason Wood is happy he has a part-time job at the Charleston Civic Center.
It means the 40-year-old veteran is a step closer to finding his first permanent housing in a year.
But it's not enough.
"I need a job. I need a full-time job," Wood said, wearing a red T-shirt and dark pants as he sat on a couch at a transitional housing facility in Charleston.
"I need purpose."
New federal data shows he's one of many West Virginia who qualify as homeless. But local experts say programs and efforts are locating and helping homeless veterans bounce back.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released new data earlier this month on the number of homeless people across the nation in 2013. It also provides data for every state and certain regions within each state.
There are 2,240 homeless people in West Virginia, according to the report. That's 170 less than in 2012 and 29 fewer than 2011, according to additional department data.
At the same time, there are more homeless veterans.
In 2011, there were 302 veterans without permanent housing in West Virginia, according to department data. That number dropped to 268 in 2012 but jumped back up to 329 in 2013.
Across the country veterans are more likely to be homeless than people who didn't serve in the armed forces, said Amanda Sisson, assistant director of the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness.
There's no one reason that someone becomes homeless: Sisson said some people don't have a good support network, suffer from mental or medical issues or can't overcome addiction.
For veterans, that's amplified. She pointed to national statistics that show veterans suffer from substance abuse, mental and physical health issues at higher rates than the average person.
"Most of the veterans that I have come in contact with who are homeless are from Vietnam," she added.
"And it's that era of veterans who are experiencing homelessness. But I also think we are going to see a lot of younger veterans coming back who suffer from traumatic brain injuries (and other issues) become homeless."
There are close to 170,000 veterans in West Virginia. A 2012 survey of roughly 1,200 veterans showed 42 percent suffer from some sort of service-related disability.
About 40 percent of those surveyed meet the criteria indicating they are depressed, and another 25 percent met the criteria to show they suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD.
At the same time, Sisson thinks the federal data can be a little misleading.
Every January, volunteers go out one night and "comb the streets" to find homeless people, she explained. The data also includes people living in emergency shelters or transitional housing who would be homeless without these programs, she said.
The government is also doing a better job counting the number of homeless people in the state, she said. The coalition didn't have any full-time employees until 2010, and it's steadily getting more support.
The Supportive Services for Veterans Families program recently received more than $3 million in federal grant funds, she said. Additionally, the state Department of Health and Human Resources distributes grants for programs battling homelessness in 11 counties.
Still, Sisson said the coalition has to estimate about half of its own data, based on things like county population, geography and counties of similar size.
There's probably more out there than we know about," Sisson said.
At the start of 2013 there were 411 total homeless people in the greater Kanawha Valley, compared to 416 in 2012, according to federal data.
That includes 45 homeless veterans for 2013 in the area — Kanawha, Putnam, Boone and Clay counties. It's two less than the year before, and a considerably smaller homeless veterans population than other areas in the state.
Sisson said cities like Parkersburg, Morgantown, Martinsburg and Clarksburg have higher homeless populations. She mentioned Clarksburg in particular: on any given night, she said there could be 80 to 100 people served at the Harrison County homeless shelters.
In Charleston, Alex Alston is confident services like the Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center are helping reduce the number of service members seeking shelter.
Alston runs the center, which provides transitional housing for male veterans.
Opened in September 2012, the facility offers 10 rooms in a building on Capitol Street in downtown Charleston. The rooms have remained mostly full since the center opened, helping about 22 veterans as they try to get back on their feet.
It's one of several locations for homeless veterans and other homeless people to seek temporary shelter in the Charleston area.
"The more programs you have, the more opportunities to reach everyone out there," Alston said.
There are other programs that help veterans facing smaller obstacles on their path toward normalcy. The center is a place for people with fewer resources who need a little more time finding a solution.
People can stay for anywhere from 90 days to two years, but Alston said most find a place to live after a few months. They typically cook their own meals, clean their own clothes and help keep communal living spaces tidy during their stay.
Wood, who served in the Army briefly before being medically discharged in 1993, has only been at the center for about two weeks. But he says he's already benefiting: center employees have helped him get a new identification card, and it's easier to look for employment and education opportunities when housing isn't a constant concern.
"Everybody understands where I came from," Wood said. "It's really conducive to getting your independence again."
Recently some of the other veterans chipped in to buy him food and snacks until he gets his next paycheck. Wood said he's never experienced something like that before.
A sense of community really helps, Alston said. Agreeing with Sisson, he said the lack of a support network is a factor for many of the veterans he sees.
Pride is another factor that plays a larger role in the veteran homeless community than for others, in Alston's opinion.
"You will see some veterans that are experiencing homelessness, and they will say 'no, there are lots of other people worse off than I am,'" Alston said.
The federal data is a little skewed and there are probably more homeless people out there in West Virginia, Alston said in agreeing with Sisson. Federal funds have helped, but both said there is more people can do to assist.
Sisson said the coalition needs volunteers every year to help in counting the number of homeless people. Alston said the veterans really appreciate new apartment care packs: when moving into a new residents, items like soap, shower curtains and floormats are expenses that can add up, he said.
For more information, people can visit the coalition's website at http://www.wvceh.org, or call the center at 304-414-0109.
Sisson said a larger report from the federal government on homelessness data is expected early next year.
Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.com