The questions U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill asked were daunting.
How did Kansas City pull off the St. Michael’s Veterans Center and everything it is doing to shelter homeless vets?
And how could other communities make it happen for them?
For about an hour Wednesday, McCaskill sat with key players and absorbed their answers: St. Michael’s six-year backstory is one of complicated alliances and a persistent struggle for fleeting public and private resources.
All of that labor was needed as part of the push toward ending homelessness among veterans — who the Missouri Democrat noted have an advantage because they are “the gold standard” for receiving support.
Behind so many veterans, McCaskill said, are many more families “who need services as much as any other.”
As hard as it has been, the effort is showing what is possible, said Evie Craig, the chief executive of the reStart homeless shelter in Kansas City.
“They (services helping vets) are providing the template to remove homelessness for everyone,” Craig said. “The lessons learned are paying forward.”
St. Michael’s, which opened in 2014 with 58 beds, is now far along in construction of its second phase with the Yarco Cos. that will double its size by this fall. It provides housing and a host of services.
Area social services are getting closer to a goal of reducing the number of unsheltered homeless veterans to “functional zero.”
They will have reached that goal when any newly homeless veteran in the area will have temporary housing ready for him, no waiting.
The latest point-in-time homeless count in Jackson County taken in late January identified 15 unsheltered homeless veterans. An additional 158 were homeless in shelters or other temporary housing.
Sometime in the next two to three months, Jackson County hopes to be ready to declare it has reached functional zero, Craig said.
ReStart is heading the project under Social Services for Veterans and Their Families grants through the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
But it’s not just about getting to zero, Craig said. It’s about keeping it there.
The barriers are tough, she said. Some 75 percent of the veteran households served by reStart, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army are extremely low-income households, she told McCaskill.
They need rent assistance, including those veterans who for discharge reasons may not qualify for Veterans Affairs benefits, she said. And they need help obtaining and keeping employment.
“We’re not helping anybody to get them in an apartment they can’t afford once our subsidy ends,” she said.
Sustainability of programs is a constant worry.
“Programs are not forever,” McCaskill said, saying she is looking for ideas that she can share with other senators to help services for the homeless grow and survive the constant changes in support and funding.
“I don’t think some of my colleagues know how hard it is to knit this together.”