Skip to main content

My Takeaways from a Meeting of the Minds

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

Last month, for the second straight month, we put the Elks Veterans Memorial to good use serving homeless veterans. Back in November, we ran a neighborhood clothing drive right out of the Rotunda. This time around, we hosted various stakeholders in Chicago's fight to end veteran homelessness for dinner and discussion in the Grand Reception Room.

The event drew some heavy hitters. Guests included representatives from Senator Dick Durbin's office, the mayor's office, two of the three VA medical centers serving the metropolitan area, and three area non-profits. The Elks were well represented as well, of course. Grand Secretary Bryan Klatt was there, as were Past National President Paul Helsel, a member of the Elks National Veterans Service Commission, and Mary Morgan, the director of the Commission.

Paul Helsel talks about what the Elks can contribute to the effort. (That's me in the foreground at left, listening attentively!)

Three things stuck with me that night.

First was the term functional zero, which I had never heard. Turns out you're never going to eliminate homelessness because new cases will constantly crop up as veterans go through crises. The idea, then, is to get to functional zero, which means you have eliminated the backlog and are capable of finding housing for each new case within 30 days. That's functional zero.

While talking during dinner with Lisa Morrison Butler, Chicago's commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services, I learned that Chicago's backlog was 450 veterans, with around 225 new cases each month. The commissioner was optimistic that the city could achieve functional zero by June.

The second thing that stuck with me was a comment I heard a couple of times while mingling prior to the dinner, and that is that everyone wants to help the veteran who looks like Pat Tillman. Tillman, in case you're not familiar, was a professional football player for the Arizona Cardinals. After the attacks on 9-11, he quit football, joined the Army, and eventually became a Ranger. He died in Afghanistan in April 2004, a victim of friendly fire.

Anyway, the point was that Pat Tillman was a strong, powerful, good-looking man, the kind of soldier you'd see on a recruiting poster. When many of us think about helping homeless veterans, that's what we have in mind. There's this notion that our soldiers went straight from the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq to the streets of America, and all that it will take to put them in homes now is an easy hand up. The reality is that as cities like Chicago clear out their backlog, they're starting to reach the veterans who have been chronically homeless.

Which leads to the third thing: During dinner, one of the non-profit attendees who has been finding and providing housing for homeless veterans for years said, "The easy ones are gone."

I saw what he was talking about in October when I went up to the North Chicago VA Medical Center to interview seven formerly homeless veterans for a new series of films. If you haven't seen One Last Stand yet, our short feature film about the fight to end homelessness, please find the eight minutes and 45 seconds to watch it. You can do so right here:

The playlist also includes our profiles on each of the seven vets in the film. (Five are already done; two are coming.) I'm not sure what I expected to find when I went up there to interview them, but I was definitely surprised by how different each of their stories were. And not one of them served during our two recent conflicts.

But regarding the comment that the easy ones are gone, I get it. Listening to their stories and hearing what they went through--crime, drugs, fear, mental and physical health issues, living in their cars, bouncing around shelters, dumpster diving, finding housing and losing it again and again--it's clear to me that helping them find stable housing required a ton of hard work by dedicated social workers at the V.A. and community partners like the Elks.

It's likely to be even more difficult to find housing for the 450 vets in the backlog here in Chicago, and thinking about that is daunting. But it's also encouraging to know that it can be done. That all it takes is hard work. We can do hard work.

We know the V.A. is in this fight for the long haul. So are the Elks.

I'll be blogging about the various films in this new series over the next few weeks. I hope you'll follow along, watch the films, and, most important, get involved. You can learn more here.

Comments

  1. Since 1998, the Veterans Transition Center of Monterey CA has been battling these exact problems with transitional housing for 55 men, women AND families - and veteran services for over 1200 other vets each year - from offices on the old Fort Ord. Elks help! Contact the CEO Terry Bare at wbare@vtcmonterey.org

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Katie Gets Acquainted with the ENF

by Katie Graves
Lodge Grants Programs Coordinator
Hello! My name is Katie Graves, and I am excited to be one of the new Programs Coordinators in the Community Investments Program office.

I graduated from Valparaiso University with a degree in English and Secondary Education with a minor in Social Work in December 2018. I spent the next six months building and growing my small online vintage clothing business, working retail at a Swedish furniture store (any guesses?), and searching for a purposeful job that I could fall in love with that would also allow me to move from southeastern Wisconsin to Chicago. When I landed the Programs Coordinator position at the Elks National Foundation, I was ecstatic to begin this journey both professionally and personally. I was moving to my dream city, and I was going to be doing a job with purpose focused on helping passionate groups of wonderful Elks do good in their communities with CIP grants.

I became a part of the ENF family at an exciting time of…

SAB in STL

by John Kavula
Elks Scholar Fellow
Less than a month after I started working at the ENF, I was in San Antonio with 150 of our scholars for the 150 for 150 Service and Celebration Weekend. That was my first time at a national convention. With all the excitement of the celebration, I knew that it was a unique event and not something to expect every year. This year, I was looking forward to going to St. Louis to see a different side of convention with a much smaller group of people: the members of our Scholar Advisory Board. After being a part of the SAB’s annual meeting, I can say one thing for sure: grab your shades because the future for Elks scholars is bright!
All of our scholars are obviously amazing, not only for their academic prowess, but their service to their communities. The members of the SAB stand out among the thousands of Elks scholars for one important reason: their dedication to engaging other Elks scholars. Staffing the Board’s meeting in St. Louis, I heard their ideas …

Meaghan's First Month

by Meaghan Morris
Lodge Grants Program Coordinator

Hello! My name is Meaghan, and I am thrilled to be the new Programs Coordinator in the Community Investments Program office.
I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2015. Since then, I’ve jetted around peripatetically, travelling to 46 states and 24 countries, and living in Western Massachusetts, Boston, and the mountains of rural Wyoming.  I moved to Chicago in 2016, and the Cubs won the World Series a little while later. I attribute my move as the main catalyst for the breaking of the Curse of the Billy Goat, so, you’re welcome for that, Cubs fans!
I joined the ENF during its busiest time of the year. I started working in the CIP office one day after grant applications opened for the new year, and our office was inundated with hundreds of grant applications in that first week alone. On top of the busyness in our office, Fundraising, Communications, Hoop Shoot and Scholarships were excitedly (yet gracefully!) preparin…