By James Gillespie
I will never forget the first time that I met DeLisa. She was walking down the hallway of the Comitis Crisis Center with her two small boys on each side of her, holding their mother’s hands. Comitis is a homeless shelter in Aurora, Colorado. When I first met her, I asked “Who are you here visiting?” My assumption was that she was a donor touring the building. Her reply surprised me: “We just moved into the third floor, the Veterans’ wing.”
It turned out that DeLisa, an honorably-discharged U.S. Army veteran, and her boys, ages five and two, were separating themselves from a domestic violence situation and drove all of the way from Georgia just to find safe shelter here in Colorado. Though once a highly-successful businesswoman, DeLisa had to choose between her unsafe home and a safe homeless shelter.
The Comitis Crisis Center is one of the few homeless shelters in the United States that will take a veteran and his/her family and provide them all with a place to stay, for free, for up to two years. The program itself is a part of the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Homeless Providers Grant and Per-Diem (GPD) Program. This program awards grants to community-based agencies that provide transitional housing and supportive services to assist homeless veterans in achieving residential stability and self-sufficiency. The VA provides per diem payments to non-profit organizations to help offset the operational costs of these programs.
DeLisa’s story, unfortunately, is not that uncommon. It is estimated that there are at least 37,878 veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States.Can you imagine voluntarily signing up to serve your country, only to return home and not have a place to call your own?
What is causing an impediment to the access of shelter services for homeless veterans with children? The answer can be found in policy. Currently, if you are a non-veteranhomeless family in the United States, federal funds will pay a “head-in-bed” per diem for each family member to the service agency housing the family. However, if you are a veteranhomeless family, the VA’s Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program will only pay for the cost of occupancy for the veteran, but not for the attached and dependent children. This issue causes a barrier to access shelter services for both male and female veterans with children, but more so for Veteran women who usually have children in tow.
That is why the Comitis Crisis Center is supporting H.R. 95 and S. 91.
H.R. 95 will amend title 38, United States Code, to ensure that children of homeless veterans are included in the calculation of the amounts of certain per diem grants. H.R. 95, also known as the Homeless Veteran Families Act, was introduced on the first day of the congress by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA).
S. 91, known as the Creating a Reliable Environment for Veterans’ Dependents Act of 2019, also seeks to provide coverage for dependents of our homeless veterans. The bill was introduced by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and co-sponsored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
So what can you do? Write to or call your member of congress and your senators! Encourage their support of H.R. 95 and S. 91.
We owe it to the brave men and women who have fought for us to speak up and ensure that their needs, and the needs of their children, are taken care of.
They fought for our families and now it is time for us to fight for theirs.
James Gillespie is the community impact and government relations liaison for Mile High Behavioral Healthcare and the Comitis Crisis Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org