After returning home from war, veterans face a number of challenges to integrating back into the community. Oftentimes over the years, such challenges can lead to homelessness. Therefore, Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation (HVAF) was started as a Far From Home Chapter in 1993, seeking to provide housing to such veterans. Just this past year, HVAF gave 2,259 veterans a safe place to sleep, and provided 1,205 family members, including 554 children, with the counseling and guidance necessary to become self-sufficient. Debra Des Vignes, HVAF’s VP of Marketing, Communications, and PR, says of their work, “We like to think of ourselves as a one-stop shop for veterans, in that they can get all their services under one roof." With this holistic attitude in mind, HVAF approached Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in 2013 to offer legal services to their veterans. As a component of this partnership, Legal Clinic staff attorney Brian Dunkel now meets with veterans at HVAF every week. He says, “As we know, low-income people, and particularly homeless veterans, don’t often have access to civil legal advice.” The partnership between HVAF and the Legal Clinic seeks to remedy this problem.
Debra shares a story of a recent veteran who benefitted from this partnership, saying, “There was a gentleman this year, his name is Wayne, and he had fallen into the trap of purchasing a new car and he basically owed $9,000 on a $2,000 car. The Clinic was able to work with Wayne and in talking with Brian—he always says Bankruptcy Chapter 7 is kind of a last resort, and its something that they think long and hard about, but that was the best option for Wayne. And it worked out to where he is now working and saving.”
Partnering with one another is particularly fruitful because, as Brian says, “The goals of what we’re doing are the same as what HVAF is trying to do: end veteran homelessness. We’ve specifically focused in on issues that have some direct bearing on self-sufficiency in order to end homelessness—debt collection, bankruptcy, things that make people more employable, like a [driver’s] license or an expungement of an arrest or conviction record.” Both Debra and Brian explain that these kinds of legal issues constitute a significant barrier to many veterans, and without intervention, they can prevent veterans from obtaining stable employment, and thus from maintaining stable housing.
Once a veteran has graduated from HVAF’s program, either by obtaining full-time employment or finding permanent housing, they have the opportunity to become a peer mentor to the other veterans still in the program, demonstrating that there is hope if they stick with it. Indeed, mirroring HVAF’s commitment to homeless veterans is an equal measure of commitment from the veterans themselves, not just to one another, but also back to the Indianapolis community at large. Debra says, “Our motto, so to speak, is we serve our veterans, they served us. But on that same note, our veterans feel so grateful for what they receive here … that they then want to give back to the community and they are very active in doing so.”
To learn more about HVAF and the work that they do, in addition to volunteer opportunities, please visit their website at http://www.hvafofindiana.org/