For Allena Flood, experiencing homelessness was both a blessing and a curse. Flood, who served in the Navy as an information systems technician from 2000 to 2008, had fled domestic violence along with her three children.
She sought refuge at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) in Milwaukee, where the staff assessed her situation and formulated a plan that helped her tap into a wealth of resources.
“I can’t even begin to tell you everything that they have done for me to make sure that I have gotten back on track,” said Flood, 33.
Allena Flood, a Navy veteran, was homeless last year, but through VA resources was able to get back on her feet quickly.
In three months, Flood found a renewed sense of security with the help of the VA. Through the resources at CRRC, she received assistance in finding and furnishing a home, obtained legal counsel to address her domestic violence situation and got a government job as a regional claims assistant for the Milwaukee VA Pension Center. “Everything I lost, I have back all over again,” said Flood.
“I don’t think people realize what the VA does in terms of helping veterans,” she added. “Whenever you find yourself in a bad position, or even if you just need someone to talk to that understands what you go through, the VA is there.”
CRRC opened its doors at 1818-1830 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in December after a two-year restoration of the historic building, which was sitting vacant at the time of purchase.
Barbara Gilbert, program manager of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, explained that her CRRC staff was conducting community outreach in the year leading up to the official opening of the new facility. “The CRRC is such a wonderful place for veterans to come and receive concrete resources,” said Gilbert. “Still, quite a bit of our work is on the streets or under bridges trying to reach all veterans.”
CRRC offers veterans access to basic resources, such as showers, laundry and food. Certain health care services also are available and there soon will be computers for veterans to use for job searches. “Veterans can walk in off the street and take care of themselves here,” said Flood.
According to January 2014 data collected during the Milwaukee Point in Time Count conducted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), only 10 veterans described their living situation as unsheltered, whereas 105 veterans said their living situation was sheltered.
“To some extent, we’ve done a great job of ending homelessness because we’re not finding the same high number of veterans on the streets,” said Gilbert. HUD defines unsheltered homeless as those residing in places not meant for habitation, such as abandoned buildings or on the street, and sheltered homeless as people living in emergency shelters or transitional housing.
CRRC focuses mainly on the needs of veterans in Milwaukee County, but Gilbert explained that the center helps any veteran who walks through the door. The new Milwaukee facility joins a network of 26 CRRCs located in other major cities across the country.
Barbara Gilbert, program manager for the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, oversees how aid is administered to veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Burton Metz, vice president at Wangard Partners, Inc., worked with the VA to find the site for the center and helped lead the $2.4 million restoration project. The building, which was constructed in 1925, originally housed a moving company that used horses and carriages. Throughout the decades, the space was also an auto repair shop and a media studio.
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