Elgin area groups unite to help homeless veterans
By Mike Danahey email@example.com @DanaheyECN on Twitter October 31, 2013 2:04PM
Elaine Slack of Algonquin and her daughter, Sheryl Gilly of Carpentersville have been making blanket mats out of plastic grocery bags. They are planning to donate the finished mats to a group that works with homeless veterans. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media
Homeless veteran numbers
As for how big the problem of homeless is in this country, according to the 2012, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Community Planning and Development’s annual homeless assessment report, “in January 2012, 633,782 people were homeless on a single night in the United States. Most (62 percent) were homeless as individuals and 38 percent were homeless as persons in families.” Among those, HUD found that 62,619 veterans were homeless in the United States, about 13 percent of all homeless adults.
According to HUD, about 56 percent of homeless veterans (35,143 people) were sheltered, leaving an estimated 44 percent (27,476 people) not sheltered. In Illinois, 813 homeless veterans were staying in shelters, and 334 were not sheltered, estimates showed.
Kane County’s Zimmerman noted that it is difficult to get accurate data on the actual number of homeless as those who might be staying with friends and family are not part of the count.
As for jobs, according to a report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, in September 2013, “the unemployment rate for all veterans over 18 was 6.5 percent, down from 6.7 percent in September 2012. The unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans over 18 was 10.1 percent in September 2013, up from 9.7 percent in September 2012. These numbers are not seasonally adjusted; they come from a small sample and are highly volatile from one month to the next”
As such, the report also stated, “The Illinois unemployment rate for veterans aged 20 years and older in 2012 was 6.8 percent, down from 8.1 percent in 2011. The unemployment rate for Post 9/11 veterans in Illinois was 6.2 percent in 2012 compared to the 6.7 percent rate for total veterans in Illinois.”
— Mike Danahey
Updated: December 2, 2013 12:09PM
A colorful project being done by the Ladies Auxiliary of Carpentersville VFW Post 5915 is one of several local efforts underway to help homeless veterans.
Those also include outreach work the Elgin Fire Department soon will be conducting and the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission recently teaming with a Wheaton-based nonprofit that received a federal grant to address the issue.
Mats for needy
Post 5915 member Elaine Slack said she was at a state-level VFW meeting in February when she spotted a woman making mats out of plastic retail bags. Slack brought the idea back to the Carpentersville Post, and so far 17 mats have been made.
Slack and her daughter Cheryl Gilly are the mat-makers, but Slack noted that many others have helped with the project, including those who have brought bags to the post for them to use.
The project involves taking the bags and cutting them into strips about two-and-a-half inches wide, Slack explained. Those strips are then tightly knotted together and rolled into de facto balls of plastic yarn.
Using an “M” needle, the plastic yarn is crocheted into a 3-foot-by-6-foot mat. It takes about 700 bags and 50 hours of work to complete one mat, Slack said.
“I can work on one while doing something else, like watching television,” Slack said.
Slack said she did a Google search and found many sites that showed her how to make the mats. She also came up with her own touches for the mats — a crocheted handle or strap for carrying one and cloth strips to better bundle them.
“You can hose the mats off. They dry fast. And bugs don’t like them,” Slack said.
Another benefit of the mats: “They keep plastic bags out of the landfill. It’s a good use for them,” she said.
Slack said the plan right now is to bring the mats to the homeless stand down scheduled for Dec. 13 in Chicago at the Northwest Armory, 1551 N. Kedzie Ave. Coordinated by the state’s VFW, the event will offer meals, winter clothing, Social Security applications, VA hospital and regional office referrals, flu shots, haircuts, and Illinois Department of Employment Security information.
Past that, Slack said she would like to donate mats to local places helping the homeless. As such, she intends to contact the Elgin Fire Department about an outreach project it soon will be launching.
The EFD will be taking part in a Department of Veterans Affairs-sponsored effort to assist at-risk and homeless veterans. EFD ambulances each will be supplied with VA information pamphlets and contact information for VA assistance counselors under the program.
The material informs those who read it about programs that are available and are part of a six-point VA strategy to help combat veteran homelessness. Those points include education, treatment, prevention, housing and related supportive services, as well as income, employment and benefits.
Firefighter-paramedics also will he able to direct homeless and at-risk veterans with whom crews might come in contact to VA case managers. The VA has a Community Based Outreach Clinic at 450 Dundee Ave. in Elgin.
The effort is being overseen by firefighter Wayde Smith, a retired Marine sergeant who served a tour of duty in Iraq. According to Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy, there currently are 27 military veterans serving on the EFD out of 133 sworn members.
Smith said Fahy had heard about the program at a conference and asked him to start up an effort in the city. So Smith wound up heading to the Hines VA Hospital near Maywood to speak to representatives about getting Elgin involved. The local project will get underway in mid-November, Smith said.
“This is a way to point people in the right direction,” Smith said. “You might see guys holding up ‘homeless veteran’ signs, and we may be able to help some of them with this. They might not know what is available or might just need a little push. If they are veterans, we should do what we can to see they get what they deserve.”
In mid-October, The Courier-News reported on another local effort to help homeless veterans: the Wheaton-based Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans recently began serving clients through a new program for homeless and at-risk veterans funded by a $444,000 Veterans Affairs grant.
The grant is part of the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families effort, which over the summer awarded about $300 million to groups across the United States that provide services to very low-income veterans facing housing issues.
The MSHV is using the money to help such veterans in DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall and Will counties. Efforts include temporary aid to cover rent, utility bills, security deposits, and moving costs. Outreach also includes case management and assistance in getting other VA benefits and services such as health and child care, financial planning, transportation, housing counseling, and financial and legal issues.
Of this endeavor, Jacob Zimmerman, superintendent of the Kane County Veterans Affairs Commission said, “The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, has called for an end to veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans is a great partner which is aggressively pursuing this goal. The Supportive Services for Veteran Families grant will be a tremendous help in the mission to get our heroes of the streets.”