Friday, September 7, 2018
By Justin Wier
A homeless veterans’ outreach coordinator with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are about 1,000 homeless veterans in the four-county area he covers.
“Just yesterday, I received seven calls from veterans in our community who are on a couch, living in their car or in a public park,” said Dr. Robert Marcus.
He covers Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Portage counties for the VA.
In a typical week, he’ll field closer to five or six calls.
Until the announcement of a $741,000 grant this week, Mahoning County had no housing specifically for homeless veterans.
“Youngstown didn’t have any beds dedicated to homeless veterans,” said Matthew Slater, director of veteran services for Family and Community Services. “That’s absurd.”
The Mahoning County Commissioners touted the grant at Thursday’s meeting. It was the result of a process Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti began two years ago to find resources for female veterans.
“This is a start,” Rimedio-Righetti said. “We’re still not done.”
Family and Community Services will administer the grant to provide housing for 15 homeless veterans.
Slater said the veterans will move into apartments, about a third of which will be provided through the cooperation of the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Association, with the goal of taking them over once they transition.
The grant extends over two years, and Slater is confident it will get renewed, as a similar grant has in Trumbull County.
Susan Krawchyk, executive director of the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission, said the program is badly needed.
“This is very significant for the area, and a huge win for the Valley,” Krawchyk said.
Commissioner Dave Ditzler said it’s important to be active in aiding veterans.
“It’s not enough to change the name of a bridge. It’s not enough to put signs up. You have to get the money to help people,” Ditzler said.
“This homelessness issue in America has become a plague,” Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said. “This is a step to eradicate that plague.”
Slater hopes to have five veterans placed by the end of the year.
Rimedio-Righetti said she is in the process of finding a staging area at the Oakhill Renaissance Center where Valley residents can donate furniture and appliances the veterans can use to furnish their apartments.