GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The number of veterans who are homeless is decreasing across the nation, dropping more than 10 percent since 2020.
One group in the Piedmont Triad says their rooms are still full of veterans who need help.
During the last survey of the homeless population in 2022, 62 out of more than 400 people were veterans.
The number is down since 2021, but advocates believe we need to change our approach to help people like Sam Kiser.
“I was drafted in 1972 in the Vietnam Era. I pulled my two years, honorably discharged,” Kiser said.
He never saw himself as our nation’s finest until his number was called.
“I told my mom I was going to be a man and come forward and make the best of it, and I did pretty well thank God,” Kiser said.
He served and served well but ran into roadblocks after he got home.
“It was a struggle. I was under trials and being tested,” Kiser said. “A lot of issues came up: divorced, financially, couldn’t grasp making it.”
After years of facing homelessness, he ended up at The Servant Center in Greensboro alongside around 20 other struggling veterans.
“We’ve had folks with depression and bipolar, folks with heart disease,” said Shanna Reece, executive director of The Servant Center. “You have some of the stuff that’s related to war, but also some of the stuff that’s just related to aging.”
The center houses and helps veterans who are homeless and have disabilities for a two-year span of time and guides them through the process to obtain permanent housing and register for benefits.
Reece says the beds have stayed full during her 17 years at the center.
“As a community, we’ve done some things over the years that have really helped and improved things, but we’re not there yet,” Reece said. “We really would like to see more work done when they’re in the military before they’re discharged.”
Reece says the VA’s new efforts to connect with veterans from discharge to home placement have helped.
On a local level, their group takes a housing-first approach by not denying people help because of substance abuse and other issues. They work to prioritize the whole person and get them help in each area while they search for housing.
Reece says Guilford County’s new endeavor to create a substance abuse facility would help the people she serves.
“I think a lot of the homeless work is almost reactionary. If we could do more work with folks in the military or newly out of the military, with job training, mental health,” Reece said.
It could give years back to people like Kiser, who is eagerly awaiting to move into his new apartment in July.
The center is also hoping to expand its facility to serve more veterans in a different way.
According to Reece, the pandemic taught the group the importance of individual space for people to recover from medical procedures and decompress.
The center is $500,000 away from its goal of adding on to the building, creating 21 individual rooms, shared spaces for video conferences and doctors appointments and larger shared living areas.