Judith Van Aman comes from a military family.
One of her sisters was in the Navy, another in the Air Force. Her father was in the Air National Guard. For Van Aman, joining the Air Force was in the cards.
“You put on a uniform, and it’s kind of meant to be,” Van Aman said.
But Van Aman, 61, has been homeless on and off since she returned to the United States from service in Japan and England in the 1980s. Since 2015, she has lived in an apartment complex owned by Missouri Veterans Endeavor — a nonprofit organization that provides long-term housing to veterans and their families at an affordable price.
Since its inception in 2011, Missouri Veterans Endeavor — previously known as U.S. Vets St. Louis — has supported more than 520 veterans, according to its website.
In 2017, there were 169 homeless veterans in St. Louis city, according to St. Louis Continuum of Care’s Point-in-Time count. That’s about 13 percent of the 1,336 homeless people counted in 2017.
Yet Bill Wallace, president and executive director of Missouri Veterans Endeavor, thinks the number of homeless veterans in the St. Louis area may be as high as 400.
Missouri Veterans Endeavor is there to help some of them, like Van Aman. At the Missouri Veterans Endeavor apartment complex in St. John, veterans have a roof over their heads, a community of others who have lived similar experiences, and constant support from a seven-person staff.
‘A veteran community’
The staff at Missouri Veterans Endeavor runs the largest long-term supportive housing complex for homeless veterans in the St. Louis area, according to Wallace. The complex, near Natural Bridge Road, can house a combination of 57 veterans and their family members in its 19 apartments.
Currently, Missouri Veterans Endeavor is housing about 32 veterans and 14 of their family members, Wallace said, all of whom live in walking distance to one another.
“What I think really makes us very unique is the fact that we truly are a veteran community,” Wallace said. “They have the peer support.”
But this organization doesn’t just provide housing. Veterans also receive services including individual, group, couples and family therapy; case management; transportation for veterans and their families; emergency financial assistance; and financial assistance for the cost of child care, according to the organization.
Everyone who comes to Missouri Veterans Endeavor is mentored by a staff member, said Christine Cronin, vice president and clinical director for Missouri Veterans Endeavor.
“We do an initial assessment where we figure out what caused them to become homeless and what they can work on while they’re here to become independent,” Cronin said. “A lot of the time, it’s financial management, credit scores, legal issues, family support, support in the community. And for some, it’s mental health.”
Veterans are assessed based on seven different areas: their housing, finances, patterns of substance abuse, employment, legal issues, their support systems and their time serving in the military, Wallace said. From there, staff members create action plans that are designed to help each veteran become as independent as possible.
About 70 percent of the veterans housed by Missouri Veterans Endeavor have issues with substance abuse, Wallace said.
“We need to help them maintain their sobriety and do whatever is needed,” Wallace said. This includes weekly sobriety support meetings and taking veterans to outside meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
‘You can’t give up’
At one point, Van Aman was living at a VA facility for homeless veterans. She was there for five months. After that, she was living in a hotel.
“My money was running out,” Van Aman said.
She was struggling with alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts; she used to say she would take her own life when she turned 40. But her two children, she said, are the reason she is still here today.
“I never got help for (my mental illness) until my daughter demanded it,” she said.
That was in 2007. For a time, she worked for the VA helping homeless vets, and later went to Texas for a program to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. She returned and became homeless again.
In 2015, she ended up at Missouri Veterans Endeavor, where she has received numerous services and a support system that has allowed her to heal from past trauma.
“It’s been difficult, because sometimes, you get too depressed,” Van Aman said. “But you can’t give up.”
Yet she won’t be at Missouri Veterans Endeavor for much longer; she and her roommate are planning on moving out together, she said. But she can’t help but feel grateful for the time she has spent there.
“This place has been a godsend.”
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