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$105K Shelter House grant to help unemployed veterans

BY ERIC LIGHTNER | JULY 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Veterans of all ages sit around a table at the Shelter House in Iowa City. They talk about their lives, their time in the service, local events, and politics. They all have two things in common — they have been in the service and they are now homeless.

The Shelter House — which just received a renewed federal grant for more than $105,000 — was one of many stops for Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, on his trip through Iowa on Tuesday, where he visited veterans and veteran organizations promoting his policies that have helped vets in the past.

Though the grant is a step in the right direction, local officials say, there is still much to do by way of curbing high unemployment rates for veterans.

Loebsack said the federal government has begun its effort to make the Veterans Association more efficient.

"What we've done over the year is increased pretty significantly the number of case workers to do what we can to relive the back log," he told The Daily Iowan. "The problem now is that even more are coming back from Afghanistan."

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a survey March 20 showing the jobless rate for veterans as a whole was 8.3 percent. The jobless rate among younger veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 was significantly higher than the average at 29.1 percent.

Loebsack said the federal government could improve veterans issues nationwide by integrating veterans' issues into many different agencies.

The Shelter House has been working hard to help its constituents find not only a place to stay for the night but also successfully housing and employment for many previously homeless and unemployed veterans in Iowa City.

Crissy Canganelli, the executive director of the Shelter House, said the American Legion, the Sheraton, the Marriott, Midwest Janitorial, and Java House have all employed former Shelter House members.

Canganelli said a significant portion of those who visit the Shelter House are veterans — about 20 percent of all adults at the shelter.

"What the folks here at the Shelter House are doing is absolutely fantastic," Loebsack said, "A lot of people really forget that there is a big accountability factor built into this."

Loebsack said even though there is an issue with balancing the budget, getting veterans of the streets and back to work must be a priority.

"It seems to me that at the top of our priority list, we got to put our veterans," he said.

Ed Flaherty, the president of Veterans for Peace Chapter No. 161, said it makes sense that veterans would flock to Iowa City.

"The fact is the VA in Iowa City is an excellent VA," he said, noting some veterans who have chronic medical conditions and little money may be stuck in the city with no place to stay for the night.

Bruce Clark, who has been staying at the Shelter House since Jan. 15, said it was thanks to the shelter that he finally began collecting benefits from the Veterans Association and started to get back on his feet.

"For 35 years, I've always been told that I wasn't eligible for any benefits," he said. "It was nice being thought of having somebody that cared enough to go out of their way to help you get back on your feet and get turned around."

Canganelli said the renewal was important because when the Shelter House first received the grant it was more focused on providing basic amenities.

"For us it was kind of a tiered process," she said. "It didn't make much sense for us to look at opportunities like the homeless veterans reintegration program when we knew that veterans weren't able to come into the shelter."


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