Trust Can Be An Issue For Veterans Seeking A Home

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The Vietnam War prompted immense soul-searching and change for our country in just about every realm you can think of: social, political, human.

Beginning Sunday WVIZ/PBS will begin airing Ken Burns’ new documentary series on the war, and its impact. With that in mind, I wanted to revisit a Vietnam veteran’s perspective from this year.  His name is Haskey Staley, living in Lorain, Ohio.

HASKEY STALEY: “Coming back from the ‘Nam it was very hard because we were considered baby-killers, psychos, we were really spit on. We weren’t given a hero’s welcome. We were treated very bad. It was hard for us to get jobs. People were scared of us.”

When we heard from Staley in April, he talked about some of the challenges veterans face with addiction, with mental health, and a topic I wanted to spend more time on—housing.

Staley was staying in Lorain’s Valor Home, a transitional housing option for veterans who have been homeless, and are trying to get back on their feet.

STALEY: “We’re good guys, and we may have little issues, but the more help we can get established in a program to get us into a home, or apartment, or anything, at a good rate that we can afford, would be a blessing to us.  To have a place to lay our heads down at night, and sleep in peace…”

WRIGHT: “We need for landlords and housing developments to take a chance on our veterans.”

Sandra Wright is the program manager for Valor Home. 

WRIGHT: “A lot of their misconduct or lack of housing happened at a younger age when they were kind of naïve, and did some things that prevented them from keeping the housing. A lot of them have evictions on their record, a lot of them have been incarcerated for child support and that kind of thing, and a lot of our landlords and housing projects look at that information, they look at that background information, and they don’t really look at the history or what the situation was behind that situation was, and why it happened.  So we’re right now trying to talk and educate landlords as to some of the barriers that face our veterans so they can get a second chance at getting housing right now.”

GANZER: “Do you find much of a difference between different generations of veterans…where you may have Mr. Staley who is a Vietnam veteran or other service members who have come through more recently, is there a difference in how they understand what help is, and how to get help, and who to trust?”

WRIGHT: “They understand, but trust is a big issue, they have trust factors.  A lot of our older residents and veterans have trust issues.  They feel like nobody cares about them, they feel that they constantly hit brick walls, and they are reluctant to take a second chance and to pursue housing when the door is slammed in front of their face…it’s just making them understand that they have to give it a chance.  It may not be as it was 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, or it isn’t as it was 20 years ago, but it’s hard for them to accept that.”

STALEY: “It’s hard because everybody’s running some type of game. I lived in a place where a guy got $1,800 that was given to me through a program, and he didn’t do a thing to help me with the place.”

Vietnam veteran Haskey Staley told me about housing aid he had received once, and, without too many details, he described how it fell apart:

STALEY: “If I’d have known that, I never would have gotten that place, and I’d have moved out, and I’d have a place that I could still be in. And I miss my God babies because they’re the ones that gave me strength. They put strength on me.  I’m not with them now.  *voice cracking* And it bothers me.  So I think all the time, why can’t I get this? They were my strength, and I’ve gotta wait until I get something to get them babies back, to give me my strength.  Every time I call them, ‘Granddaddy, you got a place yet?’ They kept me calm, they kept me cool. Now I’m borderline.  I’m like, well, hell I’ll go fight.  I don’t care who I fight.  I’m trying not to go back that way. I’m trying to stay positive, focused.”

Staley is still in Valor Home, still working through some personal issues and looking forward to permanent housing.

Even through there weren’t details of his funding situation, I learned more about some of the issues and housing possibilities veterans have from Jon Reiss.  He’s Executive Director of Cuyahoga County’s Veterans Service Commission:

REISS: “When it boils down to it, veterans are struggling, whether it’s through transition, all for different reasons. Some of them it’s addiction, some of it’s stigmatization of PTSD today…ultimately all of our demographics are affected.”

GANZER: “When veterans like Haskey Staley came out of the service after Vietnam, the United States was in a different place, the treatment for veterans was in a different place, we’re in a much different mindset especially when talking about PTSD, even talking openly about PTSD, that’s a huge step from where we were after Vietnam.  Does that make your job harder for veterans of that era, to kind of bring them into a new way of thinking, and show acceptance to what they’re going through?”

REISS: “It’s certainly a different mindset, every time we deal with a different veteran from a different era. Each veterans group was treated differently when they came out, which has built some walls of resistance against the ‘VA’ or against other organizations that are trying to provide support now. Even with the best-intentioned people in place and great programs, it’s hard to forget how veterans were treated then.  And I’m certainly not qualified to talk about how they were treated back then being 35, but I will say that I see it every day that we convince somebody to come down and see the Veterans Service Commission for financial help, and it’s the first time they’ve ever heard of us, and we’ve been around since 1886.  We see that resistance, and that resistance is hard to deal with.”

GANZER: “Can you describe some of the things veterans can look into, or tap, to be able to get housing?”

REISS: “Absolutely, there are several programs from the VA perspective. Emergency shelters that are just in your local communities that help people get the most basic needs met: a roof over their head while they’re worrying about the longer-term programs. And then the VA steps in with a really good programming for those who need treatment. So they can go into in-patient treatment, treatment beds and homeless beds, that can help veterans who are experiencing a treatment need. And then the VA’s created some other programming that’s helped, which is the SSVF programs, and those programs use the housing first model, which is the model of putting someone into housing and then worrying about how we stabilize.”

GANZER: “So we’re moving in the right direction, we’re just not there yet.”

REISS: “We’re not there yet, and for individuals like Haskey it’s never going to feel quick enough. We’re evolving, we’re learning as we go, and we’re eliminating practices that are not producing results, and we continue to build on practices that are. Ultimately I think we’ll get to where we need to get because there are a lot of smart people in the room who are doing it for the right reasons. You know the VA gets a lot of flak nationwide for the things that have happened, and while it’d be dangerous to call those isolated incidents, they’re certainly not systematic problems. The VA as a whole is doing great service for veterans, and together we’re going to find solutions.”

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