COVINGTON, Ky. — Northern Kentucky veterans who find themselves living on the streets now have a dedicated place to go for shelter and to tap into resources to help them get back on their feet.
“You do have to have to cross the river in order to get assistance like this from the VA,” said Kevin Dorning, veteran program coordinator at Welcome House of Northern Kentucky.
Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Welcome House has converted the Gardens Center building at the corner of Greenup and East 11th Street in Covington into a veterans-only facility to house up to 10 veterans at a time.
“We’re trying to get these gentlemen who served their country from homelessness to housed as fast as we’re able to with the resources to stay there,” said Dorning.
Since a VA housing grant was announced in February, the Welcome House team finished the sleeping area modifications with a few other tweaks still to make once wall lockers arrive.
The amount of veterans living homeless across the country has been steadily going down year to year from 2010 to 2016. In 2017 there was a slight jump up and numbers in 2020 sat at around the same number with only a minor shift down between 2017 and 2020, according to data estimates from the 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report.
The number of veterans living outside make up approximately 8% of the adult homeless population, according to the report. In addition, 21 out of every 10,000 veterans were experiencing homelessness.
Welcome House of Northern Kentucky houses veterans for approximately six months.
“It can go much longer than that for those who need other supports, but six months is a long time for individuals receiving direct services in this realm,” Dorning said.
Within the six-month timeframe he and his team get veterans tied to benefits at the VA, if they qualify, job resources and eventual housing. Many veterans coming out of homelessness use the VA HUD-VASH program, which is a partnership between U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and provides vouchers to cover the cost of rent.
According to the VA website, in 2019 there were 90,749 veterans active in the HUD-VASH program.
The approximate six-month stay at Welcome House allows veterans to re-establish themselves and get their legs underneath them before heading out on their own.
Over those months the veterans are also introduced to a variety of certifications, education, and training opportunities. They range from being able to get their Commercial Driver's License to learning more about self-care when it comes to healthy eating habits.
“We’ve partnered with another local non-profit, La Soupe, coming in doing some food education and cooking education with the gentlemen,” said Dorning. “Expanding their skills away from the microwave just to keep healthy eating.”
Welcome House is already looking into how they may be able to expand in the future to broaden the number of homeless veterans they can help and the opportunities they can present to those staying at the Gardens Center to help give them a hand up to their new life.