SHERIDAN — The community shelter in Sheridan closed Sept. 18, 2017, due to funding cuts by one of the lead financial contributors — the Department of Veterans Affairs. Volunteers of America Northern Rockies, which operated the building on VA property, replaced the physical building with a Homeless Outreach Program, which served nearly half its yearly residential numbers in the first three months.
The outreach program started Oct. 1, 2017, and assisted 73 women and 78 men with non-residential homeless services, totaling 151 total in three months. That total included 22 youth under 18 years of age that accompanied families or were referred to one of two youth services programs through VOANR — Milestones Youth Home and Independent Living.
“To see those numbers just after three months is pretty, I don’t know if you’d call it shocking or impressive, but it states a fact,” VOANR grant writer Bill Bensel said.
Susan Arnold, the program director, updated that number Monday night during Optional One-Cent Sales Tax funding presentations to the city of Sheridan to 193 individuals, or 118 households. Out of the 118 households, 29 were completely homeless and 83 percent of the total individuals were residents in the Sheridan community.
Arnold said the largest line item in the budget is client assistance and she wants to continue focusing on that aspect of the program.
The funding application presented by VOANR for the One-Cent funds states the Homeless Outreach Program emphasizes a housing-first strategy for those who are homeless as well as a homeless prevention focus to help keep people who are presently housed in their homes.
Benjamin Abrams and Katey Van Hoosier work as staff members helping directly with those utilizing the service. Abrams transitioned into the position after working at the residential shelter.
Former director of homeless services, Claude Alley, now works full time with the substance abuse program at VOANR.
The program relies on community partnerships to provide holistic services for those in need. Bensel said several players contribute to the program’s success, including Community Connections, churches, hotels, workforce services, the Salvation Army and People Assistance Food Bank. Arnold said Community Connections provides the majority of their referrals.
The former residential community shelter ran primarily on funds from the Homeless Provider Grant and Per Diem Program, authorized and appropriated by Congress as a part of VA funding. Those funds provided two-thirds of the overall budget for the shelter and required reservation of a portion of the shelter specifically for veterans. Because of this, the VOA ensured housing for some veterans through its Supportive Services for Veteran Families in the transition from residential to the outreach program. Beyond the SSVF services, Homeless Outreach served four veterans in the past three months.
“(SSVF has) really been doing a great job in finding and placing homeless vets and their families,” Bensel said.
Those needing services from the program meet and interview with Abrams or Van Hoosier to determine needed services. Options may include travel vouchers to their final destinations, temporary housing for individuals or families or help for those in danger of losing housing.
The program anticipates $359,000 in incoming revenues to account for the same amount of expenses. The VOA reached out to the city of Sheridan for $10,000 in One-Cent funding, asked for $44,000 from Sheridan County One-Cent funding and anticipates $220,000 from fundraising and donations.
“We still have a ways to go to make that budget,” Bensel said.
Bensel mentioned the generosity from Sheridan County and other individual donors but charged the city to become more involved financially.
“I want to see local government carry a share of this in helping people in need in their community,” Bensel said.