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Two groups to provide emergency housing in Newton for homeless vets

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, at 7:59 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, at 6:13 a.m.

The Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas is partnering with the Robert J. Dole Regional VA Medical Center to provide emergency housing in Newton for area homeless veterans.

The two groups are leasing space from Ember Hope, formerly known as Youthville, to house up to 15 veterans at a time, said Melissa Gronau, health care for homeless veterans coordinator at the VA medical center.

Although stays typically last 90 to 180 days, it really depends on the veteran’s needs, with the goal being to obtain permanent housing, she said.

“Another thing that is important in emergency housing is we want to get them established with primary care so they can get their physical needs evaluated and offer preventive care to address ongoing medical issues,” Gronau said.

“They may also need to be connected with mental health and substance abuse clinics if that’s appropriate.”

They will also have a case manager who work to get them things like driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, find out their GI Bill benefits and help them determine other benefits, like housing allowances.

Michael Kress, senior director of housing and facilities for the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas, said this is the first time the association has worked with the VA on this type of project.

He said the group also will help with other areas such as getting a job, going to medical appointments, accessing care for substance abuse, exercise and wellness and other benefits like food stamps.

The housing will accommodate veterans who are within the medical center’s coverage area in 19 south-central Kansas counties, Gronau said.

The emergency housing is the first in the area for the regional VA medical center, Gronau said. The medical center previously had contracts for emergency housing in Cedarville and Fredonia. Those contracts expired earlier this month.

They hope to someday have a facility in Wichita.

“It would be ideal if there was an agency in Wichita that was able to provide emergency housing,” Gronau said.

Kress said they hope to have 45 to 60 veterans a year use the housing.

“We’d like to be able to grow the program,” he said.

The veterans cook meals together and do light chores while they stay, Gronau said.

“They really are functioning as a family,” Gronau said. “They’re very supportive of each other.”

The Point in Time Count in January identified 56 homeless veterans in Wichita, but that number likely is low because it was collected over only a 24-hour period.

Eight of those veterans reported staying in a car or on the streets the night before, 45 were in an emergency shelter, two were in a transitional housing program and one was at Safe Haven, Gronau said.

In 2010, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs implemented a national goal to try to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

According to Gronau, there has been a 17.2 percent drop in homelessness among veterans since 2009. Estimates show there were about 62,600 homeless veterans nationwide during a single-day count in January.

The emergency housing building, 900 W. Broadway in Newton, has been vacant for about two years, said Doug Long, operations director for Ember Hope. The vacancy was a result of closures at the facility. In 2011, less money from the state and a drop in referrals to psychiatric residential facilities caused layoffs and the building to close.

For more information about the VA homelessness initiative, contact Gronau at 316-651-3684.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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