Michael “Big Mike” lies on a sidewalk outside a shelter in downtown Salt Lake, waiting for a studio apartment the Veterans’ Assembly established for homeless veterans.
He’s not alone. Many homeless veterans are staying in shelters and sleeping on the streets until more apartments open up.
Because no such program currently exists, a plan is underway in Provo to house homeless veterans. Dr. Richard Hooper, team leader of the Provo Veterans’ Center is working with the Food and Care Coalition and other nonprofit organizations to keep veterans closer to home.
“What’s happening now is because there aren’t services (in Provo), they are kind of forced to go up to Salt Lake. There is adequate housing and shelter in Salt Lake, but it means they are displaced from their community, their social structure,” Hooper said.
Hooper’s plan is to work with various nonprofits interested in renting out the upper apartments at the Food and Care Coalition in southern Provo. Homeless veterans and veterans close to homelessness can have a temporary place to stay while receiving mental health care and vocational training.
Living in VA studio apartments is not a long-term solution for homeless veterans. The Valor House, a veterans’ home in Salt Lake, allows veterans to stay for only 24 months. One of the main focuses during this time is providing veterans with the skills they will need to be out on their own again and working.
Many veterans struggle adjusting back into the American lifestyle, especially after experiencing combat firsthand, Hooper explained. Many suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. This is only one of many reasons why some veterans end up homeless.
Big Mike, an army veteran, became homeless after he was released from prison in Missouri on charges of robbery and home invasion. His family turned their backs on him. Big Mike soon found himself in Portland, Ore., hooked on heroine and methamphetamine for more than seven years.
“So to get away from that I hitchhiked here. I heard a lot about Salt Lake, that it had resources,” Big Mike said.
Big Mike just finished filling out his VA housing application, which he will turn in this week.
Other veterans become homeless for reasons not related to their service.
Jose served in Vietnam for a year and a half. The Colorado native later received a civil engineering degree from the University of Utah and was employed by Questar Gas for 18 years. Bad choices left Jose broke and rejected by his family.
“I chose to play around with women. I partied; I did drugs; and so I am evil to them,” he said.
Jose now wanders outside a shelter in Salt Lake with the help of a cane, waiting as does Big Mike, for more secure housing.
As of 2009, 23 percent of America’s homeless are veterans. Sixty-seven percent of those veterans served three or more years, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
The discussion is ongoing between the Food and Care Coalition and the Provo Veterans’ Center to see if veterans can begin using the coalition’s facilities and get veterans off the streets.
“In general, the Veterans’ Administration, their job is to provide the physical, mental and overall care for veterans who have served in the military after they have been discharged,” Hooper said.