Housing for homeless veterans from the Rockford area

Staff Report

JANESVILLE, Wis. — Rock Valley Community Programs, Inc., with headquarts in Janesville, Wis., is a nonprofit organization that, among other services, provides housing to homeless veterans in the northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin area. It is on the south edge of Janesville, next to Blackhawk Technical College.

Who are the people they serve?

Typically, homeless veterans are single; come from poor/disadvantaged communities; 45 percent suffer from mental illness; 50 percent have substance abuse problems; 47 percent served at least three years; 33 percent were stationed in a war zone; and 5 percent reside in rural areas.

Many displaced and at-risk veterans suffer lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Veterans who serve their country in harm’s way may experience emotional, physical or medical effects that can have long-term residual impacts on mental and emotional health. These issues may affect the way they perceive and interact with their families, employers, co-workers and communities, and may result in contact with law enforcement.

The immediate need

“Thirty-five hundred (3,500) veterans returned to Wisconsin communities from National Guard service in Operation Iraqi Freedom in February and March of 2010. We must provide access to necessary treatment and support services to help them return to their families and civilian occupations, with a decent chance for long-term recovery and normalcy, in effect, creating a bridge between existing VA services and others offered by our community continuum of care.” — The Wisconsin Defender, Summer/Fa1l 2009, Vol. 17, Issue 2. “Veteran’s Diversion Court in Rock County” by Hon. James P. Daley.

RVCP has renovated 24 studio apartments, each with separate kitchenette and bathroom, to offer transitional housing and support services to homeless veterans. Each unit can house two individuals, allowing RVCP to serve 48 at a time. The community maintains a sober living environment, with random breathalyzer and urinalysis testing. Veterans may stay up to 24 months before transitioning to permanent housing.

Screening, assessment, planning

RVCP provides screening, assessments and individualized case management. Case managers work with VA primary health care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment and other systems, and with other human service providers to offer peer-based help with transportation, housing, employment and training.

RVCP’s approach embraces motivational enhancement, a critical element in building self-determination, and provides positive experiences that appropriately balance accountability with assistance. A case manager works with each veteran to develop individual care strategies to address his full range of needs.

Transportation is provided to VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics, the Rock County Veterans Service Office, the Rock County Job Center, Blackhawk Technical College, Marine Corps League, Veterans of Foreign Wars Center, VFW Club, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and other service organizaions.

RVCP employs extensive outreach to identify and educate homeless veterans by engaging with staff at homeless and veterans’ shelters, churches, food pantries, Salvation Army locations, etc. A pool of volunteers works with RVCP staff to build trust in the veterans’ community and assist in the outeach effort.

Background of RVCP

TRRT spoke with two people from RVCP who gave us some background information.

TRRT: When was this organization founded?

Jana Janes of the RVCP office told us: “Rock Valley Community Programs [the overall program] was founded in 1971. It’s a nonprofit agency. We have a halfway house where we help people coming back into the community who’ve been incarcerated. We also have a substance abuse outpatient facility and homeless veterans housing. We do some community service work, where people work for different nonprofit agencies.”

TRRT: Who started it?

It was not part of any existing agency. Angel Eggers, executive director, said, “It was a brand-new effort to help people coming out of prison readjust to the community.”

TRRT: How do you receive your funding for this program?

Eggers: “The United States Department of Veterans Affairs. We applied for a capital and per diem grant. The VA then paid for 65 percent of our renovation costs for our facility, and they pay a per diem for each veteran who lives here. We also do a lot of fund-raising to supplement it.”

TRRT: Approximately how many homeless veterans are served each year?

Eggers: “We haven’t even been operating a full two years. The veterans program is a new program. We have served appriximately 85 veterans so far.”

TRRT: Do they need to do anything special to qualify?

Eggers: “They have to have other than a dishonorable discharge; some period of active duty; and they have to be homeless as defined by the McKinney-Vento Act. Basically, what it says is, they are either homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.” To learn about volunteer opportunities, call (608) 741-4500. For more information about programs, visit www.housing4ourvets.com. RVCP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. Any contributions should be mailed to: Rock Valley Community Programs, Housing 4 Our Vets, 203 W. Sunny Lane Road, Janesville, Wis. 53546.

From the Oct. 3-9, 2012, issue

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