The Oscar G. Johnson Medical Center helped house more than 60 veterans in 2023
Homeless in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin is sometimes referred to as “hidden homelessness.”
Andrew Tomlinson says it can look different than what most people think of when they hear the word.
“People aren't sleeping out in snowbanks, but they're definitely around,” said Tomlinson. He’s the HUD-VASH Service Coordinator for the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center Homeless Prevention Program. The Medical Center in Iron Mountain serves veterans in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin.
He says homelessness can mean couch surfing between friends’ houses, staying in camps, or sleeping in a car.
Last year, he and a team of people with the VA Medical Center helped house more than 60 veterans experiencing homelessness in the region.
“We were really happy with that number. We were happy that we were able to assist that many people. But unfortunately, I can't say that we were surprised,” said Tomlinson.
There is a myriad of ways the VA can assist veterans to either find homes or stay in housing that they’re at risk of losing when calls come into the hotline.
“We're going to be able to contact that veteran, do a triage, get them hooked up with supportive services for veteran families, and get them into a hotel room or emergency shelter on that same day,” said Tomlinson. “Then usually within 30 to 45 days we're going to have them on a HUD-VASH voucher and living independently in the community at a place that accepts vouchers from us. It is an extremely fast and efficacious program.”
Tomlinson says one of the biggest differences between the work the VA does and some other housing programs is they’ll continue working with the veteran for two years after they’ve gotten housing.
This makes a huge difference, especially among those who experience chronic homelessness.
“There's lots of housing programs out there that'll kind of put you in a place, but once you're in there, you’re on your own. With the VA, once we put you in the place, you're going to have somebody with you every step of the way that's going to try and keep you in that place. Even if that [first] place doesn't work out, we're going to try and find a different place for you to live,” said Tomlinson.
There are many ways for veterans to reach out for housing support. Tomlinson says they walk into or call a local VA office.
The Homeless Veterans Hotline will also connect people with resources. That number 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
You can learn more about the VA Homeless Programs on the U.S. Department of Affairs website.