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Group’s mission is to help homeless veterans

While Veterans’ Day focused on veterans and the sacrifices they have made to serve the country, Dustin Kinley, administrator for the Pennsylvania Multi-Service Center, shared that since the beginning of October his group has helped 20 veterans who have found themselves in a homeless situation in Lycoming County.

Kinley, whose group was formed in 1980 by a group of Vietnam veterans, said that the group expanded their services to this part of the state because there was a need.

“About five years ago we expanded out to Central Pennsylvania, to assist local veterans in homelessness or about to become homeless, because there was a great need in this area,” Kinley, who was speaking to a group at the United Churches of Lycoming County’s Ecumenical Luncheon held virtually Wednesday, said.

When a homeless veteran is identified, Kinley’s agency can assist them in looking for housing and getting into housing and stopping evictions from happening. He noted that in the past two months seven veterans and their families have been helped from becoming homeless.

Once a veteran meets the criteria in terms of veteran and financial status, the non-profit also provides funds to pay back and future rent and security deposits.

“We get a veteran and a family in a place. If they don’t have a bed, we’ll find beds for each member of the family,” he said.

He added that they also provide the basic necessities for establishing a household, such as linens, cookware, dishes and food items.

“That way they get going, save a little bit of money. Get a nice nest egg going so that they won’t run into the same issues,” he said.

Homeless veterans are also matched with case managers who work with them to help them get the Social Security or veterans’ benefits they need.

“We just added a new program called the homeless veterans reintegration program which helps them get jobs.

“If they need training, we’ll help pay for the training. Get them work clothes, if needed,” Kinley said.

Each year, the group enrolls about 200 clients in their programs, but Kinley noted that they also help veterans who may not qualify, which beings the total to about 350.

“Even if you don’t qualify for our program, we’re still going to help the veteran and their family members,” he stated.

Although his group hasn’t seen a huge increase in homelessness due to the pandemic, Kinley that could be attributed to the moratorium on evictions that was put in place.

“We’ve seen spurts of people needing assistance and we’re expecting a heavy ramp up of clientele once the moratorium ends at the end of next month,” he stated.

“We’re already getting calls about clientele not having a job due to the pandemic and back on three to four month’s rent,” he said.

In order to identify veterans who have found themselves in a homeless situation, Kinley said that his group does a lot of street outreach.

“They go out and they talk to community partners. They go to homeless shelters. They go on the streets looking for clientele,” he said.

Just identifying those who need help is often difficult, because they might not fit the stereotype of a homeless person.

“It’s not the billboard people you see on the streets with the cardboard and the backpack,” he said.

“Yes, that’s possible, but a lot of them dress like the rest of us. You don’t notice them. They’re hanging out in the laundromat. They’re hanging out by a convenience store. You can’t tell the homeless,” he added.

Every year, Kinley said his group participates in the nationwide point in time count, seeking to determine the number of homeless in communities.

“We actually go out late at night ourselves to do a heavy count of anybody that’s homeless. Some sleep in their cars, some crash from one friend’s to a family member’s to another friend’s place each night,” he noted.

“Some stay at the Rescue Workers or other shelters. But, some do stay on the streets. We’ve gotten calls about somebody sleeping in the woods behind Walmart or other locations. Down in tent city in Williamsport along the river,” he added.

Another hindrance to homeless veterans seeking the help they need is pride, Kinley said.

“A lot of people have an extreme amount of pride, especially if they are a veteran that’s homeless. That pride goes way up with not wanting to ask for help,” he said.

There are homeless veterans who choose to remain on the streets and Kinley said for them the Center has put together “homeless backpacks” with toiletries, clothing and gift card that have been donated by community partners.

Veterans may have arrived in a homeless situation for a variety of reasons.

“It’s actually a very broad mixture of issues from a factory closing down. Some vets get injured and can’t work, so they lose their job. And there are mental health issues. I’m not going to beat around the bush about that,” he stated.

“But, with all those aspects, we have connected with great resources,” he said.

He added that particularly with homeless veterans dealing with mental health issues, his group has worked with the Vet Center locally and also seeks to connect the clients directly with the VA hospital or other agencies.

Kinley noted that if someone sees a veteran in a homeless situation or who is about to become homeless because of unpaid rent, they can call 211, which will provide a list of resources. His agency which has its main office in Lock Haven, can be reached directly by calling 844-226-0368.

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