It sounds like a tall order, but Dr. Joe Colletti, director of Fuller's Office for Urban Initiatives, is confident that it's possible. That's why the Office for Urban Initiatives is participating in the County of Riverside's effort to help end homelessness among veterans, and hoping that local churches and the Fuller community will join in too.
The Veterans Assistance Leadership of Riverside County (V.A. L.O.R) project was launched after President Obama identified ending homelessness among U.S. Military Veterans by 2015 as a national priority. Riverside County was selected as a Continuum of Care community to provide additional resources and assistance in the effort, because of its large number of homeless veterans, and its recent success with housing them through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program which combines Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance for homeless Veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Fuller's Office for Urban Initiatives, which aims to enhance the education of students by teaching them how to encounter, elucidate, and end social issues and injustices, has partnered in the effort to give students, alumni, faculty, and churches the opportunity to be involved.
"Ending homelessness among veterans is one injustice that we are achieving in this country" said Dr. Colletti. "In 2005 there were approximately 160,000 homeless veterans and today there are less than 60,000. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has projected that there will be less than 20,000 homeless veterans by the end of 2015 thanks to the implementation of the HUD-VASH program nationwide."
The Office for Urban Initiatives has been providing opportunities for the Fuller community and surrounding churches to participate in homeless counts in Riverside County and San Bernardino County since 2005. The count is also coupled with a sub-population survey that helps to identify how many homeless veterans are living in the county, and the kinds of services and resources that are needed to assist them.
Fuller alumnus Michael Eckman (MDiv, '12) said his experience participating in the program was transformative for his understanding of homelessness and how the church can respond to people in need.
"These experiences helped me move beyond the typical fear of not knowing what to do, to a place of confident participation in an effort that is making a difference," Eckman said. "When I moved to Upland, CA last year, I was able to immediately connect with those who were active in the homeless count and survey, continuing to apply what I had learned in Dr. Colletti's class in Upland. I also had the opportunity of sharing (and continuing to share) much of what I learned with the church I am now serving."
Last year, Dr. Sofia Herrera, research assistant professor at Fuller's Graduate School of Psychology and associate director of the Office for Urban Initiatives, coordinated an effort in which the Office of Urban Initiatives contacted over 700 congregations to ask if they would like to participate in last year's homeless counts in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Through that appeal, they met numerous alumni, students, and community members, who expressed enthusiasm in doing tangible work and ended up participating. Herrara noted that the Fuller students who participated in the effort came away with an incredible experience.
The V.A.L.O.R count of homeless veterans will take place on Wednesday, January 29, and the Office for Urban Initiatives is looking for volunteers to help count and conduct surveys of sheltered and unsheltered individuals to identify how many veterans are still homeless in Riverside County. The count will be conducted on the streets, and at residential and non-residential service locations in every city and unincorporated area in Riverside County.
"Identifying homeless veterans," stated Dr. Colletti, "provides local public and private agencies, including congregations, with an opportunity to do what Christ encourages us to do which is to be a Good Samaritan and not leave someone in need on the side of the road."
Eckman added, "When our churches and government fully embrace a housing first approach to homelessness, I believe that our neighbors who are homeless will experience the love of Christ and hope for the future."
To participate in the homeless count, visit http://www.riversidehomelesscounts.com and register as a volunteer.
Another local opportunity is to volunteer for the 2014 Pasadena Homeless Count and Subpopulation Survey, which takes place on Wednesday, January 22, 2014. To sign up, click here to visit the online registration form. Contact Janice Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.