HOMELESS CENSUS/NEW VA SECRETARY-Andrew Stelzer

01/24/05

Throughout this week, homeless advocates and volunteers throughout Tampa Bay will be visiting shelters, soup kitchens, and encampments to try and get an accurate count of the number of homeless people in the area. The same thing will be done all over the country, its an effort to identify how many people need assistance, and the numbers are used to lobby government officials and philanthropical organizations with the hope of raising enough money to help those in need. WMNF’s Andrew Stelzer has more

ACT--Weikel “Statewide there are enough beds for 4 out of every 10 people who are homeless..�

Lisa Weikel works with metropolitan Ministries, a shelter for homeless families in Tampa.

ACT--Weikel “At our shelter we are full, 39 families..we will also be helping and going out to other places…�

because of the cold weather this week, Metropolitan Ministries will taking in more people than they normally can house, which may increase the numbers on their portion of the states count of homeless residents. The homeless census takes place every two years, and Weikel says that she expects to see more families on the final statistics than in 2003.

ACT--Weikel “What we’ve seen over the past year is that the number of families with children who are homeless are increasing, now 40 percent is part of a family….one of the other interesting things is that the percentage of people who are homeless for the first time in their life is increasing…�

In Baltimore, The annual census was postponed until next week because officials feared the snow would prevent volunteers from getting to their assigned locations. Advocates believe that its already difficult to get a good count, because many people live in locations that aren’t known by anyone. But it’s important to count as many people as possible.

ACT-Weikel “If we can document the true need then we have something to talk about, unfortunately the census keeps increasing, so it gives us info we needs so we can go to funders, say this many people, can you help us…because for a person to overcome homelessness its more than abed or a meal, counseling, recovery, job skills, education, to build a self sufficient life, takes resources..�

Although funding for the estimated 3 and a half million homeless Americans comes up short in just about every category, homeless veterans are one group that disproportionately finds themselves without a place to live, according to Linda Boone, the director of the National coalition for homeless veterans

ACT-Boone “Vets make up 89 percent of the population of the us, but 23 percent of the homeless population..�

Boones group recently did a survey of their member agencies across the country, and found that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are already finding themselves on the streets.

ACT-Boone ‘We have 246 member sin 46 states, we surveyed them to ask, and 19 of them and many of these services aren’t in place, and people would be shocked…�

ACT-Boone “The VA medical center are not equipped before this war to handle vets, now with more coming back and more needing healthcare, we need to make sure, otherwise we are going to have more…76 percent, of those have mental health or substance abuse issues.�

Today, the senate Veterans affairs committee confirmed the new Secretary of veterans Affairs, Jim Nickolson. They voted to confirm Nickelson, who is currently the US ambassador to the Vatican, to replace Anthony Principi; the vote took place without asking him any questions, the committee chairman said that some of the members had to leave early, and the result was a forgone conclusion anyway. One member of the committee, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, refused to vote yes and instead simply said “present�, because he thought questioning should take place before the vote. Jeffords was allowed to question Nickelson after the vote—and the incoming secretaries response was as close as the incoming secretary got in the entire proceeding to mentioning homeless veterans.

ACT—Jeffords “All indications are that the VA will have funding cuts, so that services can be maintained, or are you gonna write them off…�

Boone says that although Nickelson is a veteran himself and she believes he will work hard as the secretary of the VA, he needs to be educated in order to do a good job.

ACT-Boone “He doesn’t really know about the veteran world, he hasn’t been an indigent veteran, he will have to learn how the system works and put things in place..’

Boone is working on getting a bill introduced in congress, which would mandate education for veterans when they return home, about what to do if they find themselves in trouble.

ACT-Boone “There is a program called transition assistance, formulated to help people when they become a veteran to get their next job, and over time the department of veterans affairs, and you’d think that’s a good start, its not available for guard and reserve, and there’s no curriculum…there is an increased risk, and those risk factors are never discussed, and there’s no prevention see it as that’s a big piece that's missing, because the DOD doesn’t see it as a priority..within their job description to help people once they leave the military�

The Homeless census continues throughout this week, to volunteer to help, call 813-223-6115.

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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