County agency pushes to help homeless vets

Late last week, members of St. Lucie County’s Veterans Services joined other agencies out in the field to try to count as many homeless residents as possible and determine the number of homeless veterans among them.

While the official tally won’t be in for at least a month, according to Veterans Services officials, the agency isn’t waiting to get work done on their behalf.

“We’re trying to get a homeless vet a job,” said County Veteran Service Officer Wayne Teegardin, apologizing for placing St. Lucie Voice on hold to take another call. Teegardin said he’d been waiting to hear from the caller regarding a possible job opening for a particular homeless veteran.

During last week’s count, Teegardin’s group identified four homeless veterans. Three of the four told the surveyors that their lack of employment and finances are the reasons they are without homes. “They would like to come out of the woods,” Teegardin said.

The fourth veteran, who is 61 years old, did not specify a reason for his homelessness, which is not uncommon, according to Teegardin.

The veterans received tarps and hygiene products, Teegardin said. One veteran requested a bicycle. Teegardin said a bicycle would soon be delivered to the veteran.

Every January, volunteers around the Treasure Coast take up a homeless survey and compile the results. The survey never captures the homeless population in its entirety, but it helps agencies get a rough idea who is out in the woods.

Last year’s survey found 27 homeless veterans, six more than the year before. “You can’t find them all in one day,” he said.

They get a better count during the annual Homeless Veteran Stand Down, an event that invites the homeless veterans out of the woods to get haircuts, a hot breakfast and hot lunch, and determine their eligibility for V.A. benefits. While the survey found just 27 homeless veterans last year, the Stand Down attracted 38.

Some are fine staying homeless, Teegardin said of veterans he’s come across. Others simply don’t have jobs to pay for rent to get out of the woods.

“Some have issues,” Teegardin said, explaining they might have mental challenges, PTSD or have shut themselves off from the world. “Or, they’ve just given up.”

“It takes a lot of effort to solve some of those issues,” he said.

To that end, the Veterans Services has been tasked to come up with potential solutions. One such solution under consideration is converting a building into a homeless veterans home – a place where multiple veterans could live for an extended period of time while they get intensive treatment, educational training and even rehabilitation.

“The public sees it as a shelter or transitional housing,” Teegardin said. “That’s not our concept.”

He sees the building as a place for veterans to live for one or two years – and it’s not just a matter of getting veterans in from the elements and putting a roof over their heads.

“It’s going to take a huge cooperative effort,” he said, of creating a network of professionals willing to help.

As for the one homeless veteran Teegardin was hoping to help land a job, “he’ll be one less person” on the survey. “He just needs a little boost up.”

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