Veterans Peer Outreach & Internship Program
Berkeley Food & Housing Project (BFHP) has over 20 years working with engaging 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 and engaging chronically homeless veterans. BFHP’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program developed a unique outreach model headed by our non-denominational chaplain trained in moral injury who is accompanied by team of peer outreach workers who are currently homeless veterans who want to give back and who want to gain employment skills for their resumes.
Our peer outreach team created and led by our chaplain has made us very effective in reaching and engaging with street homeless veterans, especially the disaffected, chronically homeless veterans of the Vietnam era. Our engagement strategy begins by a slow development of personal relationship building and trust building. We are clear to identify ourselves as civilians who are there to help. We start with socks, granola bars, hygiene kits and water and always offer the option to meet with our chaplain for spiritual care. Having an option to meet with our chaplain 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 program started its peer internship program in 2014, which 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 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 7 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.