Throughout George’s time in the military, he wanted to be strong. Strong for himself, strong for his wife, strong for his family, and most of all (as they are the world to George), his two dogs: Zeus and Bella. When Rhonda Gonzalez, SSVF Housing Case Manager, first met him at Project Homeless Connect, she was immediately drawn to George’s spirit.
Rhonda noted that everything seemed to happen to George in an instant. She saw him as sincere, a man that truly was desperate. Before he could take care of his bills and his housing, his mental health was paramount – having lost three family members (brother, wife, and uncle) in a span of two months.
PTSD and trauma are common conditions SSVF sees many veterans struggle with. Counseling is a way to help them overcome the emotional weight they feel whether from their time in service or from general life circumstances. “We send them to the Vet Center, where they utilize peer-to-peer support. ” Rhonda said. “They do art therapy, they do one-on-one, they do group therapy. One of the other things that helped George was talking with his pastor. George is a talker so the peer-to peer would work well for him.”
Rhonda mentioned the Vet Center also uses equine therapy, which incorporates horses to help Veterans dealing with PTSD. “Horses can sense stress and when they are having an episode dealing with anxiety, the horse brings them back down to calm,” Rhonda noted. “They feed/brush/ride the horses. They learn how to take care of one specific horse and learn how the horse reacts to certain actions and apply it to their own life.” Veterans can also do art therapy.
After addressing George’s mental health, the SSVF team turned to his life circumstances. He needed help with his rent and utilities. He was barely getting by before his wife’s death, and now trying to live on one-half the income was impossible.
“The first step we take is to secure housing,” Gonzalez said. “In the 1–2 week process, we contact the landlord/property management company for an updated lease, and the balance due. We also arrange for a home inspection to make sure it meets HUD standards.”
Gonzalez said they refer to two emergency housing centers in the Kansas City area: Footprints, which is sponsored by the VA and Benilde Hall, an addiction treatment center, which provides two programs called Benilde Hall and Safe Haven.
Among all the services that Veterans need to survive, nothing can replace pure kindness and a shoulder of support. “Honestly just being there and listening is crucial. A lot of people listen to respond, or they listen to react. Many of our vets just need someone to listen to them.” Gonzalez said. “Once George saw that we are there to listen and to help, he could open up and trust us.”
This blog will continue to follow our journey with George in the SSVF Program.. Watch for our next post to learn how crucial these services are for Veterans facing homelessness.