BART partners with veterans’ groups to connect homeless veterans with services

11.08.19

BART partners with veterans’ groups to connect homeless veterans with services

Veteran outreach specialist talks to man near BART

Above: Swords to Plowshares outreach worker talks with man outside BART, Nov. 5, 2019

By MELISSA JORDAN
BART Senior Web Producer


Sometimes there are signs; camouflage-pattern clothing, a tattoo, a certain bearing in the way a person carries themselves.

Outreach workers focusing on veterans are walking the streets of San Francisco, including going into BART stations and plazas, partnering with BART homeless outreach workers to make sure that those who have served their country can get help if they need it.

This Veterans Day, like every other day, they’ll be making their rounds – the holiday that gives bankers and many office workers the day off doesn’t do much for veterans living on the streets. Outreach partnerships like these are the concrete ways that veterans get help. It’s part of new BART General Manager Bob Powers’ emphasis on quality-of-life issues that affect BART riders.

Veterans typically have benefits linked to their service, such as health care or educational funding, however, without a steady place to live, they may not be able to receive mail about the benefits they have earned. Organizations like Swords to Plowshares, a BART partner, work to help homeless veterans access services and, ultimately, to find supportive housing.

“Veterans have a powerful identity, a pride that exists in having served their country,” said Armando Sandoval, BART’s Community Outreach Liaison and Crisis Intervention Team coordinator. “The challenge is connecting with them with the right resources at the right time when they are ready to accept help.”

Swords to Plowshares outreach worker Brad* showed how he approaches his rounds, walking through BART stations and plazas, stopping to talk whenever he saw a person sitting on the ground, or leaning against a wall. It’s as if he could sense the brotherhood when meeting another person who had served.

“Are you a veteran?” he asked a man in a wheelchair near the entrance to the BART station. A veteran himself, Brad served in the U.S. Army. He’s fairly new to the Swords to Plowshares job but experienced in talking to veterans and knowing their special needs (for example, tracking down the paperwork that proves a veteran’s record, such as honorable discharge status, needed for certain benefits).

Turns out the man he was talking to was in the Navy, but he’s been having trouble accessing his records. Brad takes down his information and offers to help. The Navy man is not homeless – he’s got housing but enjoys sitting outside on a sunny day – and he is grateful for the advocacy.

Brad says he spends about 20% of his time in the office doing administrative work and 80% doing this type of street outreach.

“Every person has a story,” Brad says. “These are veterans who served our country, and if they’re living on the street it’s degrading; it takes away their dignity. I would hope that the public appreciates what they’ve done, and takes a moment to think about what that veteran is going through.”

Besides Swords to Plowshares, BART also partners with the Veterans Administration on various efforts to help homeless or underserved veterans in BART stations.

BART’s Sandoval encouraged riders to give some thought to veterans’ sacrifices if they see them struggling in and around the BART system.

"It takes a lot just to survive on the streets," he said. "During the holidays, it would be nice if we could all have a deeper threshold of patience and tolerance for those who area less fortunate, especially those who served," he said. "We are all potentially fragile."

Heather Graviet, a homeless outreach coordinator for the Veterans Administration in San Francisco, said partnerships like the one with BART are important to help create regional solutions to regional problems like veterans’ homelessness.

“In working with community agencies and partners, we create a safety net for the vulnerable homeless veteran population,” she said.

The city's database currently includes 276 self-reported homeless veterans in the Bay Area, and that's most likely an undercount from the actual number, with many unreported, veterans' outreach experts said.  

Homelessness takes a big toll on veterans. “Many of the veterans we work with expressed effects of homelessness such as health complications, impact on mental health, trauma, isolation, increased risk for substance use and abuse, increased vulnerability to crimes such as theft and assault, and inability to secure and maintain employment,” Graviet said.

She said the public can help by being aware of and informed of local resources that are available, and being mindful of local policies in place that support affordable housing and access to affordable housing.

If there’s one thing she would tell the public this year about homelessness among veterans this Veterans Day, Graviet said, it would be, “No veteran should be without a place to call home.” 

*Brad is not his real name; the outreach worker asked to use a pseudonym for privacy.

RESOURCES TO HELP

Veterans Administration: Know that one phone call can be the difference in the life of a Veteran who is homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Make the Call to 877-4AID-VET (424-3838) to be connected 24/7 with VA's services to overcome or prevent homelessness for yourself or a Veteran you know. Read more at: http://www.va.gov/homeless/

Swords to Plowshares: There are many ways to get involved, from volunteering, to tax-deductible financial donations or donations of items in-kind, like business suits for veterans going on job interviews. Read more at: http://www.swords-to-plowshares.org/

BART Police Department: To report a person who may need help to BART Police, you can call 510-464-7020, or use the BART Watch app downloadable from bart.gov/police 

Social Resources Page: To read more about social resources available in our community, visit BART's Social Resources Page.