This is the third in a series of stories profiling people who are homeless in Turlock, their daily struggles and efforts to improve their lives.
Tim Guerino is passionate about helping local veterans. As director of the Homeless Assistance Ministry with the Turlock Gospel Mission and a veteran himself, he is concerned with the increasing number of veterans coming through the Turlock day center’s doors seeking help getting back into society.
“We’re seeing quite a few (veterans) here and a lot of younger ones from 2000 and up,” Guerino said.
The veterans who come to HAM are looking for help finding a job, getting the medical care they need and most are homeless. Guerino said many of the veterans are dealing with adjustment issues — going from a military (and sometimes combat) situation to civilian life. And the poor economy isn’t helping.
“Guys and gals who carried weapons and were in charge of equipment worth millions and millions of dollars can’t get a job flipping burgers,” Guerino said.
Some of the veterans who seek help at HAM have other factors to deal with like substance abuse problems and mental health issues.
“Substance abuse along with trauma, it makes for a volatile situation, and harder (for them) to adjust,” Guerino said.
As more and more servicemen and women return from Afghanistan, Iraq and other deployments, the need for help will only increase. The Veterans Administration is tasked with taking care of the more than 20 million United States veterans of military service. The VA provides a wide range of benefits to veterans including vocational rehabilitation, education, medical care and housing for the homeless. The services are available for vets, but the challenge is getting vets to seek out those services and follow the process in obtaining them.
“A lot of (veterans) just don’t have a whole lot of faith in the Veterans Administration,” Guerino said.
Steve Lawson, director of the Modesto Vet Center, has encountered this same attitude of distrust for the institution tasked with taking care of America’s veterans.
When homeless veterans come to the Vet Center, Lawson encourages them to take advantage of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System’s domiciliary program. The domiciliary treats homeless and/or substance-dependent veterans with the goal of returning them to independent living.
The Homeless Veterans Rehabilitation Program, one of the two residential treatment programs at Menlo Park (70 beds, roughly 180 days for completion), is based upon the ethic of “I create what happens to me.” The program promotes positive change through five principles: Personal Responsibility, Problem Solving, People, Practice, and Play. HVRP’s sister program First Step (30 beds, roughly 90 days for completion) is the continuum of care that extends beyond the residential phase of treatment. The aftercare programs, attended by hundreds of veterans per year, allow outpatients to practice skills learned in residential treatment, “check in” with care providers and peers, and opportunities to “give back” and mentor those veterans currently in the program.
“There are quite a few resources for veterans,” said Bethany Ketchen, assistant chief of the Palo Alto Domiciliary. “The problem is the people who need access are often reluctant to take advantage of the services or just don’t know about them.”
Lawson praised the domiciliary program for its outreach to homeless vets, but the main problem he has seen with Stanislaus County homeless vets is their unwillingness to travel two hours away to get help and be “institutionalized,” as he has heard one vet say.
Guerino has a plan for connecting local homeless vets with the services they need, here in Turlock. He is working with the City of Turlock to make contacts with the VA in the hopes of securing funding for a veterans wing of the new Turlock Gospel Mission permanent homeless shelter, which is in development on a parcel of land at the corner of Broadway and D streets.
“We assist vets on a day-to-day basis,” Guerino said. “We should be working hand-in-hand with the Veterans Administration.”
The funding is there to help homeless vets. In 2009, President Barack Obama and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the federal government’s goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015. Through the Homeless Veterans Initiative, the VA committed $800 million in 2011 to strengthen programs that prevent and end homelessness among veterans.
The money is there, it just needs to be accessed, said Guerino.
“We need to be proactive, not reactive. Do we have to wait for a (vet) to kill somebody before they can get help?”