This is why the Veteran Services team at Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph conducts continual outreach. While we have offices in Kansas City, Warrensburg, and St. Joseph, not everyone can access our offices. Therefore, continual outreach is necessary to uncover homeless veterans who might be suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, or simply low socioeconomic status.
We recently caught up with Toya Jenkins, a Supportive Services for Veteran Families Housing Locator and Outreach Specialist. Toya’s passion is making sure veterans know the multitude of services available to them, enabling them to become self-sustaining.
Q: Toya, what brought you to the Veteran Services team at Catholic Charities?
A: Well, I’m a United States Air Force veteran. I was married to an enlisted man for eight years and we have two children together. However, we divorced, and I moved back to my hometown of Kansas City. Upon my arrival, I struggled to find the resources available to me as a veteran. Even though I had a master’s degree in education, I couldn’t find a job. I was staying on my Mom’s couch, so I needed housing, and the cost of health care insurance was looming. It seemed the only way I discovered the resources available was slowly, and through word-of-mouth. Eventually, I got a job in higher education and would encounter veterans facing the same obstacles. As I shared with them what I had learned, I found my calling.
Q: Does being a veteran give you an advantage?
A: I definitely think so. The SSVF team is mostly comprised of veterans who have served in the Marine Corp, Air Force, Army, and Navy. Outside of that, we also have team members who bring unique perspectives such as the spouse of a veteran. The homeless veterans find it easier to communicate with us because of our commonality. Plus, the core values instilled during our training are the same ones we employ in conducting our outreach – “leave no man behind,” “service before self,” etc.
Q: How do you get the word out about your services?
A: We attend community events, passing out flyers and information. (For example, we have our 2019 Fall Stand Down Event on Friday, November 8 at the St. Michael Center http://kcstanddown.org/). Also, our case managers conduct quarterly outreach within the communities we serve, coordinating with parishes, churches, health organizations, police departments, food kitchens, etc. There is also a program called Boots on the Ground.
Q: What is Boots on the Ground?
A: Boots on the Ground is a joint effort between Catholic Charities and other organizations such as Salvation Army, reStart, or Veteran Affairs, just to name a few. We physically visit veteran’s “homes” even though most people would classify these places as uninhabitable. This could be under bridges, in homeless camps, or a make-shift shack in the woods. We then serve the immediate needs of the veteran with food, hygiene or simply information sharing.
If you’d like more information about the Veteran Services team outreach efforts or want to be involved, please contact Toya at 816-659-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org