Program gives homeless veterans a place of their own

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) – Matt Igleski enjoys spending time at home watching television and reading when he’s not volunteering in the community. His studio apartment is only 324 square feet, but it means a lot to the Navy veteran who was once homeless.

“It feels more like a home than any place I’ve been since ’03,” he said.

Igleski joined the U.S. Navy in 1985, just before his 18th birthday. Serving in the Armed Forces was a tradition in his family.

“My dad was in the Navy. My mom was in the Navy. I had an uncle in the Navy — three uncles in the Navy, two that were in Toyoko Bay at the surrender of Japan,” Igleski said. “When I was a kid I wore my dad’s jumper, you know, the navy blues and all that stuff.”

After his service stint, Igleski taught English as a second language for 8 and a half years in Korea and Thailand. He returned to the United States in 2011 and said he learned about the impact the economic recession had on those he knew and the rest of the country.

“I was gone so long I didn’t have property here,” he said. “Nobody was in any position to help anybody when I came back, so I went to a shelter for two weeks.”

The veteran, who has a degree in general studies from Indiana University Northwest, said he lived in per diem housing before he was told about the HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) Program.

Lorrie Trowbridge with the Bloomington Housing Authority oversees the VASH Program. She said it’s a responsibility she holds close to her heart.

“My husband, Seth, was stationed at Fort Bragg,” Trowbridge explained. “He retired as a staff sergeant. The Army gave so much to my family.”

Inside Trowbridge’s office is a board hanging on the wall with several military patches.

“It’s always something we talk about. They come in and they look and they say, ‘Wait a minute! You’re a veteran?’ and I have to explain, ‘No, I’m not a veteran. My husband is,'” Trowbridge said. “I think that makes them relax. They become a little bit more comfortable with me and they feel like I can identify with them better.”

Trowbridge said the Bloomington Housing Authority was initially given 25 VASH vouchers in 2009 by HUD. Now, the department has 80 vouchers they are able to give to area veterans. Seventy eight of the vouchers are already filled, and the remaining two are expected to be filled by December 2015.

Trowbridge explained, “A homeless veteran needs to first contact the VA and they have social workers that are assigned to the VASH Program, and they will help determine whether or not they qualify for VASH. In order to qualify for HUD-VASH, you must meet the VA’s definition of veteran, which means you’re eligible for VA health benefits. So once that is done then the VASH social worker helps them complete the application, obtaining the necessary verifications and identifications, then they turn then into the Bloomington Housing Authority. We process the application, bring the client in, we do a briefing, issue them their voucher; they go out and they find where they would like to live in the community, then we conduct and inspection, move the veteran in, and we start housing assistance payments at that time.”

Trowbridge said there’s no time limit for the veteran to be off of the income-based housing program.

She said, “The voucher is funded through HUD. So as long as HUD continues to fund the voucher they can keep the voucher as long as necessary. I think we have two or three gentlemen that have remained on the program for six years.”

The Army wife said she’s seen firsthand how the VASH Program can change a veteran’s life.

“I have one veteran who just recently graduated from Ivy Tech with a degree in HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning). He came from homeless, living in a vehicle, to having a degree and is out seeking a job at this time. That is huge! That is a huge reward, not just on his behalf but for the housing authority to know we changed their situation that much.”

Igleski said he’s grateful for how the program has changed his situation, and volunteering is how he shows his gratitude.

Click here for more information about the HUD-VASH Program.