By Luis Torres, WorkSource Central Basin
Within minutes and fewer than 20 footsteps, veterans seeking help at WorkSource Central Basin can receive life-changing support.
Jennifer Semanko and Luis Torres surround brothers Yancarlo and Alex, taking a moment to enjoy their success at getting these veterans into stable housing.
On any given day, you can visit this WorkSource office and find Jennifer Semanko and me speaking over cubicle walls, strategizing about customers who need our support. We have become a formidable team, battling homelessness among veterans. Our goal is to achieve “functional zero” in Grant and Adams counties, which is as close as you can get to eliminating homelessness. We’re accomplishing it by embracing the “housing first” philosophy, which maintains that having stable housing is a prerequisite for getting a job.
Jennifer works for HopeSource, a WorkSource partner organization. She specializes in housing veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. I work for the Employment Security Department (ESD) as a Disabled Veterans Outreach Program case manager, helping veterans with significant barriers to employment to become job ready.
Since September 2015, Jennifer and I have helped 47 veterans come out of homelessness, move into their own house or apartment, or helped them keep their current housing. Eighteen of the 47 also received case management services to overcome their barriers and return to work.
Brothers Yancarlo and Alex Figueroa are two combat veterans who came to WorkSource for help in their job search. After I spent some time with them, I determined that these two young men needed housing.
“I could live in the woods if I had to,” said Yancarlo, and Alex said, “I could dig a foxhole if needed.” True, their training had prepared them for either. But I told them HopeSource and Employment Security could help them, and we did. Twenty-two days after stepping into WorkSource Central Basin, the brothers now share an apartment and are aggressively looking for work!
We’re not always that fast. Currently, Jennifer can enroll and find housing for a veteran in approximately 54 days. But Yancarlo and Alex are good examples of how we help our customers by working together. Our proximity and collaboration allows us to assess our customers, then guide and deliver the veteran to the other. The veterans build a strong rapport with us as we provide access to housing and support from other partner organizations.
HopeSource works with the Department of Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Administration (HUD-VA) Supportive Housing Program, which is a joint effort between HUD and the VA to move veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing.
HopeSource also helps with emergency housing and money for rent, deposits, utilities, child care, rental arrears, vehicle repairs, clothing, tools for work and basic household items. Where Jennifer’s program drops off, others pick up. The Grant County Housing Authority helps find landlords willing to rent to our target population. The Grant County Veterans Coalition provides support with food, gas, utilities and other services.
Once our customers are housed, we start helping them overcome other barriers, such as substance abuse. Once again, we work within the case management system and the network of organizations developed though community outreach.
The ultimate goal is to prepare veterans for employment — like Employment Security’s vision statement says — “the right job for each person, every time.” I believe our work is an example of “being the bridge” — the phrase ESD’s Commissioner Dale Peinecke uses to describe our work connecting job seekers to jobs and training.
Author Luis Torres works at WorkSource Central Basin in Moses Lake.