Veterans Peer Outreach & Internship Program
Berkeley Food & Housing Project has over 20 years’ experience engaging with and housing chronically homeless and mentally ill people who are living outdoors. Our experience and expertise led us to develop a specialized peer outreach model for reaching chronically homeless veterans. BFHP’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program has a dedicated outreach team which is led by our interfaith chaplain who is trained in moral injury. Her team consists of peer outreach workers who are currently homeless veterans who want to give back and who also want to gain employment skills for their resumes.
Our peer outreach team has been very effective in reaching and engaging with street homeless veterans, especially the disaffected, chronically homeless veterans of the Vietnam era. Our engagement strategy is centered on building personal relationships and trust. We are clear to identify ourselves as civilians who are there to help. We start out by offering items that might ease their situation: socks, granola bars, hygiene kits and water – and always offer the option to meet with our chaplain for spiritual care. The latter is especially helpful for those suffering moral injury from combat duty. Our chaplain can help them feel worthy again which allows them to be willing to accept help.
BFHP’s SSVF peer internship program started in 2014 and has become an extremely successful component of our program in Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano Counties. For example, when our SSVF program began working in Solano County in 2015, the Point-In-Time count for homeless veterans stood at 140, of which 64 were unsheltered. We began deliberate and intense outreach efforts into encampments and abandoned buildings. We have now served over 300 literally homeless veterans in Solano County, many of who were not connected to VA services, and a portion who deliberately avoided the VA and other service providers.
Furthermore, Berkeley Food and Housing Project’s Peer Outreach 6-month Intern Program is designed to give homeless veterans a chance to re-enter the work force. The lead outreach worker assists the homeless peer outreach worker in overcoming barriers they may have to attaining housing/employment. Interns earn a bi-weekly stipend from SSVF and the lead outreach worker assists the interns in creating budgeting and savings plans. Since we began in 2014, we have hired 10 homeless veterans as peer outreach workers. All of the graduates left the internship with permanent housing and employment. One of the graduates now works full time for BFHP. Providing encampment outreach through our Peer Outreach Intern Program is one example of how BFHP has developed creative and effective collaborative efforts that work to end veteran homelessness.