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Little Rock nearly eradicates veteran homelessness

Little Rock's new program helps veterans get housing for free by working with the shelters, VA and landlords.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - It's something no one wants to see: veterans in crisis with nowhere to go.

The City of Little Rock says it has nearly ended veteran homelessness in the area all thanks to a fairly new program they call Housing First.

"It's just unbelievable. I'm working, I'm back on my feet, and I'm doing real good," said Danielle Green.

Just a few months ago, she was at her lowest. The Air Force veteran and mother of six left a bad domestic situation. She hadn't worked in three years and felt she had nowhere to go. That's when she was referred to St. Francis House, a shelter for veterans and their families.

"They got me to the doctor. They got me to the VA...There's a lot of services that are available to me every day. I can talk to somebody every day,” Green said.

Two years ago, Green may not have gotten so lucky. There were lots of organizations offering help, but they weren't working together, leaving many veterans on the streets.

To address this problem, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola put together the Mayor's Task Force on Ending Veteran Homelessness.

"These individuals have sacrificed their lives, oftentimes their future, for the safety for us and our country, and they deserve no less than our absolute best effort to try and give them an opportunity to be reintegrated in the community,” the Mayor said of the program.

They started with outreach, taking a census of the Central Arkansas homeless veteran population. Then they began to create an organized system utilizing established services.

For the first time, if a veteran shows up at Jericho way, St. Francis House, or even at Little Rock City Hall saying they need help with housing assistance, there are systems in-place to help them immediately.

This virtually eliminates the red tape veterans have been experiencing.

"If you are homeless...You don't have to go through an alcohol and drug program. You don't have to go through any kind of other program to get assistance in getting into housing,” said task force member, Pat Dahlgren. She is the Program Coordinator for Supportive Services for Veteran Families.

Dahlgren says what makes this program unique is that it helps veterans get housing for free by working with the shelters, VA and landlords.

"If they are eligible, we can help them with rent deposits, utility deposits, we can help them with a limited amount of rent," she said. "And just help them get established because it is very difficult if you're homeless to come up with all that money that's needed on the front end to get into housing."

Once the veteran is secured in transitional housing, they're linked with mental health, medical and social services, to help them get on the up and up.

"I got a full physical. They asked me if I needed help getting my disability started..." Green said. "You get to see an attorney, which is free...[for] any type of thing you're going through. All that is there and available for you.”

The task force has cut the homeless veteran population in half - down to 35 - which is the federal standard for having ended veteran homelessness.

Even still, there are veterans who have no clue the program is available.

"We still have those that are not aware of the resources,” said Estella Morris, Program Manager of the VA Comprehensive Homeless Center of Excellence. “We feel that, for that reason, it remains imperative that we continue with the outreach process."

Green's family is getting ready to move into their new home. She has a message for veterans on the fence about utilizing the service:

"It is mainly about swallowing that pride," she said.

If you know someone who could benefit from the program, visit Supportive Services for Veteran Families on Main Street. The program is also always in need of landlords who will participate.

The City will apply for certification this month declaring they've officially ended veteran homelessness in Little Rock.