FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Northern Arizona Veterans Resource Council (NAVRC) located in Flagstaff has two main goals, to house homeless veterans' families and to prevent veteran families from becoming homeless.
The Council covers a huge area including both the Navajo and Hopi reservations, from Payson to Fredonia and past Ash Fork to New Mexico.
Michael Van Ness, Flagstaff site director for NAVRC, said the Council uses a Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) grant from the Veterans Administration (VA) which allows the Council to focus on people who are literally homeless like those who are sleeping in their cars, camping outside, living in a shelter or are recently discharged from prison.
"Everything we do starts with housing," said Van Ness. "The grant allows us to focus on families and the family could be an individual, could be a husband, wife or children, could be wife and wife - it just is up to the veteran to decide what that means."
Sixty percent of the money goes toward getting those homeless veterans' families stabilized and 40 percent goes toward preventing homelessness among those veterans who have a place to live. The money sometimes goes toward paying rent or gas bills but Van Ness said that is not the only thing the resource center does.
"We're not just paying bills and spending money," Van Ness said. "Really we're doing very rapid case management. We run a critical time intervention case management."
The resource center gives itself 90 days to stabilize a family and connect them with services enabling the resource center to pull back from the direct help they are providing. Stabilization means that the veterans' families are in a home, their income exceeds their expenses and they feel secure that they are going to succeed in that housing.
"I think the biggest thing to realize about what we're doing is we seek to build up a partnership with the people that we're working with," Van Ness said. "So case management is actually a collaboration."
NAVRC's case management differs from top down case management where the person is told to apply for five jobs in a certain time period and then is checked on, for example. Van Ness said that that type of case management can feel very inhumane and can feel like a parent is checking to see if things are done to their satisfaction.
"We necessarily have things we want people to do because of SSVF," he said. "But we're also listening to what they want and we're addressing their needs. It is very much guided by them. But we also share the responsibility of achieving the goals we lay out."
And while stability may last longer for some than others, the resource center is ready to help again if needed in the future.
"Things happen, life happens, if someone was stable and six months later they run into a snag and they want to come back and work on something else, we can do that, too," Van Ness said.
The Council works to find housing first before any other issues are addressed.
"The housing first philosophy says once you house someone so much stress gets relieved from that person's situation that other things become easier to do," Van Ness said. "It's easier to get employed, to stop using drugs, to take care of your family."
He disputes those who say there are no homeless people living on the reservations. Van Ness said on the reservation people have more family relations, they have clan relationships and they have support systems that may not exist in different places.
"They are informal a lot of times, there aren't formal leases and people aren't being given eviction notices for them to leave a place," he said. "They have no rent but can't afford to buy wood for their homes."
Van Ness said he loves his job because it allows him to be creative with a grant that was written for a more urban place where the homeless may be found at bus stops or park benches.
"If we say 'look it is dangerous for you to live there if we don't do something' then if they need wood we're going to get that, if they need propane to heat their house that's fine," he said.
One thing the grant does not cover is physical improvements to veterans' homes.
"If someone is living somewhere that is not habitable because the roof is falling apart and there are no windows on the house then we work with that person and if they don't want to live there or they can't live there then we're going to help them find a new place," Van Ness said.
For those veterans who do not want to leave, the center focuses on referrals, information and an in depth explanation of all the services that can help them.
Van Ness also believes working with veterans is a benefit because they are people who have already overcome adversity, been in war zones and fought and served this country.
"They have pushed themselves beyond where they thought that they could go," he said. "They went through those experiences and we can tap into that strength and in some cases you just have to remind them 'look you're amazing' and just try to connect them to that and use that as a motivating factor."
Because of the SSVF grant, the resource center has specific guidelines for who qualifies for their services.
"Once in a while we find a family who doesn't qualify, so we're going to do everything we can to connect them to other services, give them all the information we can give them," Van Ness said. "We are a resource center, we bring other people from other programs in."
Van Ness said there are many ways the community can help veteran families that NAVRC works with. Landlords who want to rent to veteran families can contact the resource center. The resource center accepts donations of food, clean clothing, hygiene products and money.
"There are things that we need to spend money on sometimes that our grant does not cover," Van Ness said.
He said the SSVF grant does not serve all homeless populations but it does help those veterans who qualify.
"I'm looking at a very narrow group of homeless people but I am serving them completely," Van Ness said.
The Veterans Resource Centers of America also has offices in Bullhead City, Ariz. and Prescott, in addition to Flagstaff.
More information about donating or renting to veteran families or information about the Northern Arizona Veterans Resource Center is available at (928) 266-1984 or on its website at www.vetsresource.org.