ANTIOCH -- Back when he was an Army medic, Richard Scott faced plenty of challenges, including tours of duty in Bosnia and Iraq.
But when Scott and his fiancee, Chanelle Roberts, lost their construction jobs in November, they found themselves faced with the challenge of paying the rent on their apartment.
That's when Martinez-based Shelter Inc. stepped in and helped. A program with the nonprofit geared to preventing and ending homelessness among veterans in Contra Costa County provided the couple with one-time financial assistance that paid their back rent, along with April's payment.
"It's been tremendous. People say they've seen the light. Well, we're walking in the light," Scott, 41, said Wednesday with a lighthearted laugh as he sat in the couple's apartment.
The financial assistance not only helped with the rent, but "it allows us to not have to make any rash decisions and to have time to think. That was the biggest thing," said Scott, adding that now they can start saving money for a vehicle. He will start working in a customer service job later this month at a call center where Roberts, 37, started working a couple of weeks ago.
Shelter Inc., which provides a broad range of social services aimed at preventing and ending homelessness in Contra Costa, is one of 151 nonprofits nationwide that have received funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out a Supportive Services for Veteran Families program at the local level.
The program provides temporary financial assistance to low-income veterans at risk of becoming homeless and helps homeless veterans find stable housing. The program, which serves single veterans and those with families in Contra Costa, also works with the county's Veteran Services Office to help them take full advantage of their health, education and other benefits. If necessary, referrals are made to job training and other social service programs that provide help. The goal is for veterans to move into a situation where their income is stable and can cover future living expenses after the temporary help goes away.
"As a triage program, we are dealing with people who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless," said John Prindle, program coordinator for Shelter Inc.'s Supportive Services for Veteran Families. "The goal is to get them into a sustainable budget."
Moses King, 58, learned of the program when he saw a flier about it tacked on a bulletin board of a Richmond soup kitchen. His car had became his home this past summer after his hours as a caregiver were reduced and he couldn't keep up with his rent.
"I was stressed out. I really didn't know what to do. Everything just all went haywire," said King, who has since regained some of the work hours he lost. He is now living in a Richmond apartment, thanks to financial assistance from the program that helped him with move-in costs.
"That program, it helped me. I didn't know what I would do. I was at my wit's end," said King, who served in the Navy as an enlisted man in an administrative job. Since it was launched in September 2011, the program has found stable housing for more than 150 homeless veterans in Contra Costa County. Another 80 veterans in danger of becoming homeless received temporary financial assistance that helped them stay in their homes.
But while there is help for these veterans, a big challenge for the program is making sure that veterans know the help is available, Prindle said. To that end, efforts are made to connect with homeless veterans through Central County Homeless Outreach. Program caseworkers are assigned to the One-Stop Career Centers in Concord, Richmond and Bay Point. Some veterans learn of the program through other social service agencies.
"And then they call us up, and that's how we get them connected to the program. Partnering with other agencies is key and letting people know we are part of the new and improved Department of Veterans Affairs," he said.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her at Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.
To find out more about Shelter Inc.'s Supportive Services for Veterans Families program, call 925-957-7579 or go to http://shelterincofcccorg.presencehost.net/programs/ssvf.html.