Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"60 Minutes" on Veteran Homelessness

Here's something worth watching and paying attention to. 60 Minutes had a great piece last weekend about homelessness among veterans (click and watch below). The story focused on a Stand Down event in San Diego attended by more than 900 homeless veterans. For three days, these veterans could be seen by doctors and dentists, get help with employment, find out about the (scant) housing opportunities, and tap into the wide variety of services offered to veterans by the VA and to homeless people everywhere by other government and social service agencies. This event, and others like them all over the country, are going to be initial indicators of whether soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan thrive or sink towards poverty and homelessness. Find out what's happening in your community, and try to get involved.

Here at Community Voice Mail, we are trying to help end homelessness among veterans by giving out voice mail numbers to more than 4,000 veterans each year, and connecting them to information that can help them get jobs, find housing, stay healthy, and get the help they need to get on with their lives. Many of our managers regularly provide CVM numbers at Stand Down events like this around the country. And next year, we're going to do much, much more (more about this in another post).

At minute mark 10:20, the reporter says "Stand Down can't track a thousand homeless vets, so there's really no way to know how many might have picked up a lead on a job or a home..." But of course, there is a way. Give every veteran attending a Stand Down a Community Voice Mail number, tell them that they're going to start receiving regular broadcast voice messages about jobs, housing and all the services they learned about at the event. Tell them they can also receive this information via email, or on a blog, or using Facebook or Twitter. And finally, tell them that from time to time someone will contact them and ask them how they're doing, whether they've found a job, and if they've received the services they need. These are capabilities we have now that could be offered at Stand Down events all over the country. It's not that hard.

In this age of "social networking," we sometimes forget how important it is to stay connected to people. Hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless come to Stand Down and Homeless Connect events all over the country each year, and most of them leave these events without a simple way to stay connected to the resources offered there. Every agency offering services has a form where they will take phone numbers, mailing addresses and maybe email addresses, but there is no summing of the parts, no coordinated effort to make it easy to reach every attendee with follow-up information that can help them. They come as individuals, and they leave as individuals, with little effort to bring them into a community or network of people facing similar problems (or offering solutions to these problems, like the agencies or individuals that participate). Without the ability to stay connected to veterans attending a Stand Down event, the value of every service provided there is diminished.

Imagine a day when every homeless person becomes part of an information network specifically designed to increase opportunities for rising out of poverty, to match people with available services, and to increase a feeling of connectedness that people living on the streets often lack. That's what we're trying to build here at Community Voice Mail.

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