published Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Reaching out to homeless veterans on Chattanooga's streets

James Miller sits in the dining area of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Monday. Miller, 53, is a veteran of the U.S. Army.
James Miller sits in the dining area of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Monday. Miller, 53, is a veteran of the U.S. Army.
Photo by Alex Washburn.
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Primary care, mental health, dental, housing and employment services for veterans are available through the Chattanooga/Hamilton County VA Outpatient Clinic at 6098 Debra Road, Building 6200, Suite 5200. Contact Beth Ratledge. Call 893-6500 ext. 27058.

VA Homeless Prevention Program, 3400 Lebanon Pike, Murfreesboro, TN 37129. Contact Rand Rohrer at 615-225-5536.

Or visit the website at www.tennesseevalley.va.gov.

Within three weeks, an outreach specialist will drive in a Veterans Administration van looking for homeless veterans living on Chattanooga's streets.

"If there's a veteran on the street who needs medical, housing, employment services ... we're reaching out," said Dan Heim, Health Care for Homeless Veterans program coordinator with the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System.

Medical, addiction and dental services also are available to veterans.

The outreach specialist also will do outreach in mission shelters and halfway houses looking for veterans who may not be aware of the services available to them. The outreach specialist will have an office in the VA Outpatient Clinic off Brainerd Road. The goal is to educate veterans about VA services and to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

But Vietnam veteran Ronald Walker, 62, said veterans in Chattanooga do know of the services available to them.

"Most veterans realize where they can go to get help. It's just that a lot of them have given up hope," said Walker, while lounging in a chair at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, which provides the homeless with food, day shelter and more.

"I shouldn't be here. In fact I'm taking up somebody else's seat," he said, laughing.

He had a good wife and good jobs, worked at DuPont and as an airport fireman and police officer. Problem is he had too many women in his life and his wife eventually divorced him, he said.

Less than a week ago he lived with a friend in Patten Towers but moved out and wants to get housing at Whiteside Faith Manor, he said. Whiteside is a low-income housing development subsidized by the federal government.

"You can get yourself in a rut, even right here," Walker said. "You know you're going to eat and you can sleep on Holtzclaw [the Chattanooga Rescue Mission is at 1512 S. Holtzclaw Ave.]. It's easy living."

Army veteran James Miller, 53, spoke about veterans services while eating lunch at the Community Kitchen on Monday.

He already knows of services but would appreciate a van to transport him to appointments, Miller said.

He has a spot on his lung and a heart condition, yet Miller walked two hours from the Westside to the VA Outpatient Clinic near Eastgate to catch a bus to the veterans hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for medical care.

"A lot of people don't have bus fare," said Miller. "If you get a doctor's appointment, you don't have a way to get to it."

Veterans make up 13 percent of the 561 people who are homeless in Chattanooga, according to the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition's 2011 point-in-time count. About 76,000 veterans are homeless across the nation, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

And there is concern that there will be more homeless veterans when soldiers come home from the Iraq war, according to news reports. Nearly 40,000 troops will be brought home from Iraq by Dec. 31, President Barack Obama said last week.

It's "absolutely critical" to have workers reaching out to veterans so that they will know where to go, said Mary Simon, Chattanooga Homeless Coalition executive director.

"When people go to the kitchen it's very important that they get those emergency needs met, but they may not know about programs that are specific just to veterans," she said.

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about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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