To answer a national call to end Veteran homelessness, a collaboration of government agencies, nonprofits, and businesses, including United Way’s Priority Veteran, held a one-day housing blitz called Operation Reveille, to provide safe and stable housing for veterans who have given so much for their country.
The event was held January 18, at United Way where many housing providers and organizations offered their resources to help the 30 prescreened homeless veterans in attendance.
One of the veterans was Robin Manner, a Navy veteran who recently became homeless.
“When they were speaking I cried for a bit,” Manner said. “The vet program is a big deal as a vet. It sucks to be homeless, but I appreciate the effort [of Operation Reveille] a lot.”
Manner served as a Navy hospital corpsman. Hospital corpsmen like Manner work aboard naval hospitals and clinics, and are often the only medical caregiver available in many units on extended deployment. She became homeless in October and said that she was quick to reach out to Priority Veteran, a United Way agency, a program that helps provide permanent housing and other resources for veterans.
Manner said that asking for help isn’t something she wanted to do, but was glad she did.
“I was real quick to call Priority Veteran, and they took care of me quickly,” Manner said. “I’ve never had to ask for any help [before], and I was surprised actually to get help, and they were so quick and so fast.”
This coordinated, community-wide effort was led by the Birmingham VA Medical Center. During the one-day event, veterans met representatives from housing authorities, landlords and utility companies, received financial and legal assistance to address challenges they might face in getting permanent housing. They also received food, household items, and other community support services to help them transition from homelessness.
“United Way of Central Alabama’s Priority Veteran initiative was pleased to host this event. Priority Veteran has provided one-on-one housing assistance to over 1,000 veterans struggling with reintegration, and we are pleased to help add to the number of success stories,” said Lula Skowronek, executive director of Priority Veteran.
Preparation for the event began back in December, Paula Stokes proposed the project after learning about similar efforts across the country. Stokes is a veteran experience relationship manager for the Southeast District of the VA.
“I saw the need to bring community partners together in this city,” Stokes said. “We knew we had a lot of community partners willing to help veterans, but there’s never been anyone to bring them together to do something like this. “
Stokes said that Operation Reveille wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of many community organizations and businesses, who stepped up to combat veteran homelessness on short notice.
“We couldn’t do Operation Reveille without veteran-friendly landlords, community partners like United Way hosting us and giving us this space,” Stokes said. “It’s just been amazing the support United Way has given us. And all the other community partners and local agencies [like] banks and churches, that’s just been amazing.”
In 2015, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that there were around 500 homeless veterans in Alabama. At the last reported count in 2016, there were around 150 homeless veterans in Birmingham and surrounding communities.
Aside from housing providers, several other organizations were on hand to help meet other needs that the veterans might have. One such organization was the Volunteer Lawyers Program of the Birmingham Bar Association.
“After all veterans have done for our country, at the very least we could provide them with safe housing,” said Nancy Yarborough, executive director of the program. “We’re hoping that if there’s anything a veteran might need to overcome legally, that might be prohibiting them from getting a lease, staying in a lease or paying their rent, that we’ll be able to help them.”
Landlords interested in participating in future events may contact the local housing authorities. Homeless veterans interested in services may contact the local VA. For more information about the VA Homeless Programs, individuals are encouraged to visit www.priorityveteran.org.