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Veterans + homelessness — Oklahoma nonprofits address root of the problem

Posted at 7:05 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 07:45:33-04

TULSA, Okla. — The need for help by homeless veterans keeps growing and is met with more government funding.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded millions of dollars in grants to nonprofits across the country last month. Three of them are in Oklahoma: Community Service Council, Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma, and KI BOIS Community Action Foundation.

Rachel Runfola, a former active-duty Air Force staff sergeant, runs the CSC’s veteran's division.

“Just think of one day you’re in your house and the next day it’s gone,” she said.

Runfola experienced homelessness 10 years ago but pulled herself back up with help. She now returns the favor by being there for her fellow veterans.

“Think about sleeping in your car in the Walmart parking lot because you don’t want to sleep in a shelter, and you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from,” Runfola said as she described cases her team has picked up.

In the last nine years, the CSC housed 4,000+ veterans. They keep going with help from the VA.

“This money is critical to veterans that are struggling consistently to make ends meet,” Runfola said.

The VA awarded $418 million in grants in June. The announcement was made through a July 6 press release.

Some of that money is also for the Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma. A team there is looking into why veteran homelessness continues to be a problem. The recidivism rate of a veteran’s homeless prevention program is between 18 to 20%.

“That's a pretty hefty number whenever you’re looking at the number of people who are coming back into a program like this,” said Amara Lett, director of training & employment services for GICO.

Lett says many of their cases fall under two categories: mental health and addiction. Another roadblock is when income is abruptly cut in half.

“One of the primary things that we’re seeing in today’s environment are elderly Vietnam-era veterans that are retired, and their spouse passes away,” Runfola said. “Some people are lucky, and they have friends they can go to, and others are not so lucky. So, we are here to serve those that served us.”

Oklahomans can call 211 to be connected to housing help.

GICO is also looking for more landlords and employers to partner with in providing veterans jobs and housing. Those wishing to help can call (405)278-7100.

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