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Review for Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

Every November, Veterans Day provides a special day for grateful Americans to thank and honor military men and women for their sacrifices in service to our Nation. On the Southside of Pittsburgh, workers for the non-profit agency, Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, Inc. (VLP), get their opportunity to serve veterans every day. With a staff of 14 full time workers, many of them veterans, the office at 2417 East Carson Street provides assistance to veterans who are in need of housing and employment. Their mission statement serves as both a brief description of the organization and ouotlines its vision as advocate in serving the veteran community: OUR MISSION- Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania helps veterans address their needs by cultivating opportunities and developing options for their growth in the community. Veterans Leadership Program does this by providing assistance to unemployed, underemployed, and homeless veterans and their immediate families. With VLP working collaboratively with big agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Pennsylvania's Department of Labor, the question raised was one of accessibility. Does the VLP provide the bridge from asking to receiving; the bridge over the river of red tape that deters some veterans from seeking assistance? Does the center provide a place where all of the necessary resources come together to provide those services? The answer is a resounding yes. One of the simples questions I asked while volunteering was what would happen if all caseworkers were out of the office when a needy veteran walked in for assistance? The policy simply states that no one would be turned away. Whoever was in the office would provide the intake assistance. AGENCY HISTORY - Many Vietnam Veterans Leadership Programs (VVLP) were established throughout the United States in 1982; however, after the three year federal funding ended, many of these programs vanished. The Southside office was started by progressive Vietnam Veterans from the Pittsburgh area and survived through the hard work of the staff, together with the dedicated leadership of board members. In 1993, the program expanded to include the PA Highlands area by opening an office in Johnstown at the Hiram G. Andrews Center. In 2005, the name was changed from Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program to its current name, Veterans Leadership Program, to reflect their effort including veterans of very service era and those serving during peacetime. Membership in veterans programs is distinct and may be available with a Defense Department (DD) Form 214 proving military service. The social need for veterans' service organizations is great in Pennsylvania. With over 300,000 veterans residing in Southwestern Pennsylvania, this region has the second highest per capita concentration in the United States ( HOMELESSNESS -Nationally, the need for non-profit transitional housing programs will increase dramatically based on the latest reports. An article appearing in our local paper, The Beaver County Times, cites Veterans Affairs Department data showing 1,500 current-war homeless veterans, with 400 of those participating in programs that specifically target homelessness. Younger Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are already "trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help finding a job" (Associated Press 2007). According to Daniel Tooth, director for veterans affairs for Lancaster County, they will have a "tsunami of them eventually, because of mental health toll from this war is enormous" (AP2007). Repeated deployment in current-war veterans is only one of the many reasons for loss of income; other reasons can include disability, family breakdown, and substance abuse. The statistics are surprising because Vietnam Veterans, who make up the largest share (42.4%) of homeless veterans, took about a decade before their lives began to "unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless"(AP). Community based non-profit, "vets helping vets" groups, which provide transitional housing programs work best for the homeless veteran population. In Allegheny County, veterans account for 22% of the more than 2,000 people that are homeless (Allegheny County DHS, 2007) each night. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has the principle responsibility for overseeing programs for homeless veterans in Pennsylvania, the VA has only 332 funded beds. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans estimtes that from the "400,000 veterans homeless at some time during the year, the VA reaches 25% of those in need...leaving 300,000 veterans who must seek assistance from local government agencies and service organizations in their communities" ( Like most successful non-profits, the collaborative efforts of federal and state agencies help with funding needed programs like VLP. There is clearly a future social need for service organizations like VLP whose mission includes their very central their very central task of addressing the social impact of homelessness in their local veteran communities. Veterans Leadership Program provides a caring community service that helps struggling veterans retain their dignity, disallowing the "conveyor belt" pattern that bureaucracy can sometimes create. FUNDING FOR PROGRAMS In their effort to attack the very real problem of veteran homelessness, VLP offers several different transitional housing program. Scattered site housing, located in safe neighborhoods where transportation and community amenities are available is built-in to all of the current 6 specific programs. Federal and State grants set guidelines for the programs and for participant number. For example, the "VICTORY HOUSING PROGRAM provides housing to 15 homeless disabled veterans with dependent children" (Housing Programs, VLP). PENN FREE BRIDGE HOUSING PROGRAM is funded with Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SAPTBG); overseen by the PA Dept of Public Welfare, Office of Social Programs." This program serves those in drug and/or alcohol recovery with their targeted population either men or women with or without children. The program requires completion of a treatment program, being in recovery, and having six months clean for placement (HP, VLP). The U.S. Department of Labor's The Homeless Veterans Employment and Training Program (HVET) provides grants for the other part of VLP's mission: employment and training assistance providing "job search assistance, education and training stipends and supportive services" (Employment Programs, VLP) Included are: vocational counseling, workshops, and regular job fairs and employment placement follow up. One-on one client counseling assesses skills, abilities, experience, and interest. Twice weekly, a resume workshop is held at the Center. Case management is listed as the key component of service that begins" with the intake process and includes setting goals in the area of life skills, financial management, parenting skills, home maintenance, job preparation skills and/or employment" (HP, VLP). This is the accessible bridge of asking to receiving services that begins with intake and continues with follow up. Like most non-profit agencies, VLP looks to the community for support. VLP is listed in the United Way's Contributor choices. Private donor contributions and collaborative government agencies work with VLP's valuable human capital for growth and leadership. They include the Executive Director, Staff, volunteer Board of Directors and Honorary Advisory Board. Adjunct volunteer help and educational internship is welcomed to help contribute to their mission. VOLUNTEER ACTIVITES -My volunteer activities included answering the main front desk phone in the lobby, taking the mail to the drop box, and greeting people when walked into the center. Calls from the Pittsburgh VA, the Housing Authority, or the United Way would come in through the main phone. Often, first time veteran callers would ask about services. These calls would be routed to intake specialists, who assist with the initial application. After this initial interview, the applicant would be assigned to a specialist caseworker who followed them through the program. Due to strict privacy policies, I did not sit in on any intake interviews. The front lobby was often busy with women and children; other times representatives from agencies would drop items off or clients would arrive for their appointments. Once, a middle aged man, who often walked by the center, came in to "check it out". Like many of the participants, he was a Vietnam War Era Veteran, who was in job transition and needed new skills. The center could help him with the computer classes he needed. A computer room, adjacent to the lobby, provides free access to the internet for job searches and provides bulletin boards overflowing with job fairs and information pertaining to housing and employment needs. The daily Pittsburgh paper and current employment guide papers were always on the table next to free coffee in the lobby waiting area. Retail products like dining coupon booklets are sold for additional revenue that is returned to the program. My thanks to Ron for inviting me on board, Dan for breaking me in, Kim for providing valuable VLP history and information about programs, Karen and Ken for the helpful interviews and last, but not least, Mary, for her patience and guidance allowing to "help" with the front desk. Angela Fabbrini, University of Pittsburgh Student- Service Project Paper, November 26, 2007

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Role:  Volunteer