CINCINNATI -- David Bowles is excitedly making plans to move from a homeless shelter to an apartment of his own in a few weeks, thanks to a new Department of Veterans Affairs program helping homeless veterans find long-term employment.
"They saved me," said the 56-year-old former Marine, who got VA assistance in landing a job with a suburban Cincinnati company.
Job-ready veterans exiting homelessness like Bowles and others on the brink of homelessness can now turn to the VA's Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services for individualized assistance in finding the types of stable jobs needed to sustain housing.
The program officially launched this month uses 154 community employment coordinators at VA locations nationwide to help identify job-ready veterans and establish relationships with local employers. They also connect veterans with resources to help them succeed after finding work.
Homelessness is a serious problem among veterans: nearly 50,000 were homeless on a single night in January 2014, according to a count developed through a partnership between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
For Bowles, a job layoff and a failed marriage left him without money for rent or a motel when he returned to his home state of Ohio from South Carolina to hunt for a work.
"I never expected to end up in a shelter, but one hiccup in life can put you flat on your back," said Bowles who applied for his current job on his own, but had no way to get back and forth.
The Cincinnati VA's coordinator helped by connecting Bowles to a donated fund the VA uses to provide bus passes for homeless veterans and by reassuring the prospective employer.
"I could promise he would be able to get back and forth until he got his first paycheck," said Elizabeth Appelman.
Bowles now works at Advanced Testing Laboratory doing quality control measurements of components for a major medical device manufacturer. The company's human resources manager said Bowles' skills and "can-do" attitude fit their needs and the transportation guarantee helped everything fall into place.
"It's worked out perfectly for us," said Shelley Cooper.
Getting to and from jobs is a major hurdle for homeless veterans, especially in rural areas with limited public transportation. Coordinator Paul Schuerenberg at the VA in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, says he is talking with various groups there to see if expanded bus service or some other solution is possible.
Veterans trying to move from homelessness shouldn't be burdened with trying to figure out where to find transportation assistance or clothes for job interviews or employers willing to hire them, said Carma Heitzmann, national director of the new homeless employment program.
"The idea is to try to put all those resources together so it's more streamlined and efficient for the veteran," Heitzmann said.
The Cleveland VA's coordinator says that while efforts are made to match veterans' skills with employers' needs, veterans' preferences are also considered.
"We want them to have jobs they have a passion for and want to continue long-term," said Daniel Abraham.
Dwight Washington, of the Cleveland suburb of Richmond Heights, was able to get such a job with Abraham's help. The 61-year-old Army veteran was on the brink of homelessness after a temporary job through the VA ended. But Abraham connected Washington, who has years of experience with mechanical and electrical maintenance, with a company providing maintenance services for the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland.
Washington now works there and loves it.
"It's good to feel normal and be self-sufficient again," he said.