Sioux Falls, SD
The number of homeless veterans has been on the rise over the years. Just last year, Veterans Affairs reported more than 300 in Minnehaha County alone. But now a new grant will go towards getting those veterans off the streets.
The Volunteers of America will receive more than $1 million to help get homeless vets into permanent residences. For some of those who work at the VOA, it's an effort that hits extremely close to home.
For Allen Pratt, coming home from war is much different now than it was in the days of Vietnam.
"So I had a lot of guilt and shame. When I came back some little hippie girl gave me a flower and she tripped me and then everybody spit on me and I just thought, 'welcome back,'" Pratt said.
Not knowing how to handle the response to his return home and the loss he experienced, Pratt began living on the streets.
"I just became a hippie hitchhiking around southern California. I'm a San Diego boy so I slept under the bridges of LA at out of dumpsters behind Jack In The Box," Pratt said.
But thanks to the Volunteers of America and the VA, Pratt's life is headed down a different, better path. And now with a new grant for the VOA, Pratt is getting to help homeless veterans.
"This new grant that we have been given, it's going to be quite a blessing to go beyond just the veteran but go with the veteran’s families and help provide housing and get them going again," Pratt said.
VOA leaders are excited because this will allow them to do something they've never done before.
"What we will be doing is leasing apartments and then putting veterans in those apartments and providing intense case management to those veterans," Veteran Services Coordinator for VOA Dakotas Chris Nelson said.
This grant is now filling a need many at the VOA see first-hand on a daily basis.
"Right now we have a waiting list to get in here and that just shows there is a big need in the community," Nelson said.
And for Pratt, everything is coming full circle for him.
"And I was pardoned by President Obama last year, presidential pardon. So I just feel like this is a whole new lease on life to be able to start helping veterans to help themselves," Pratt said.
The VOA will work with the veterans for six to 12 months. In that time, the organization hopes to have the vets take over a lease and live independently.