2016-01-24 / Insight

Reaching out to end HOMELESSNESS

Veterans Affairs commit to finding homes for their own
BY ALEX PETRIE
810-452-2609 • apetrie@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — No veteran should have to worry about homelessness. It’s as simple as that. And it’s an absolute travesty that the men and women who have literally risked their lives for our country have returned after war, only to find that they are incapable of finding sufficient housing. Factor in their families and children, and it becomes almost disgusting.

Enter Veteran Affairs. Lapeer County Veteran Affairs is committed to ending homelessness among veterans. The organization’s mission consists of three distinct parts: Conducting coordinated outreach to proactively seek out veterans in need of assistance; Connecting homeless and at-risk Veterans with housing solutions, health care, community employment services and other required supports; and collaborating with federal, state and local agencies, employers, housing providers, faith-based and community nonprofits, and others to expand employment and affordable housing options for veterans attempting to relieve themselves of the scourge of homelessness.


Ed Ronders, 69, of Davison, is the director of the Lapeer County Veteran Affairs Office, and has made it his goal to make veterans aware of their benefits. Though he has only been the VA director in Lapeer for less than a year, Ronders has built a career around veteran’s affairs and has bolstered the organizations outreach and services significantly. 
Photo by Alex Petrie Ed Ronders, 69, of Davison, is the director of the Lapeer County Veteran Affairs Office, and has made it his goal to make veterans aware of their benefits. Though he has only been the VA director in Lapeer for less than a year, Ronders has built a career around veteran’s affairs and has bolstered the organizations outreach and services significantly. Photo by Alex Petrie Ed Ronders, the director of veteran affairs in Lapeer County, detailed his enthusiasm for veterans and helping them with their benefits after leaving the service. The Veteran Affairs office provides counseling and prepares, submits, and monitors veterans’ disability and pension claims, along with assisting in qualifying for VA healthcare, among many other areas of aid, including assistance with homelessness.

“Homelessness in Lapeer is a lot more common that you might think,” said Ronders in a somber tone. “Especially with vets. And the problem, or one of the problems, is that there is a lot of difficulty pulling together data on this. How do you find them if they don’t come in? How do you document the number of them?”

He explained that, within the first several weeks of his duties as director, he received two phone calls within two hours from homeless veterans. In order to begin helping these men and women, they must have a form detailing their discharge, proving their service, which can be difficult, because many homeless individuals don’t tend to carry around important military documents.

“Man, that was a rude awakening for me,” said Ronders in disbelief. “Two calls in two hours? And the thing is that this is a very broad topic, you know? Because you can look at the cause, and you can look at the resources available to them. You just can’t divorce the two. And, actually, there’s usually more than one cause. That could be a litany of things, but a couple things that seem to predominate are substance abuse and what drives them to substance abuse, unemployment, PTSD, there’s just so many factors and they all become kind of hard to distinguish… It’s just a whole range of reasons as to why, and just because this is a nice little rural county, we’re not exempt from these issues. We’re just not.”

In order to combat this sudden and increasing epidemic of veteran homelessness, Ronders and the veteran affairs office have put in place a number of forms of assistance, which begin immediately. First, the department must verify military service and homelessness, followed by a grant-funded program which can provide “rapid re-housing,” and almost immediate shelter. Afterwards, a plan will be laid out for the veteran to help them fix whatever problems have led them to this point. Then, longer term housing, including apartments will be arranged. Once a veteran has officially established residency, a counseling service is provided, particularly in the case of those with substance abuse or psychological barriers.

Veteran Affairs works with a number of different organizations, whether they provide housing, counseling, or otherwise, in order to help veterans reestablish a firm footing. Ronders was able to recall a number of particularly difficult obstacles that a number of veterans have overcome thanks to these programs and implementations.

“When we work with homeless vets, a lot of them aren’t aware of all the programs we have available for them,” said Ronders. “Now we’re able to tell them, you know, ‘Here’s what’s available to you.’ We have to make our presence and our services constant… How many people are just one paycheck away from being homeless? You know? We’ve just gotta raise awareness, because maybe someone knows a vet who’s having problems, and we pass it on, and they tell another person, and hopefully it grows from there.”

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