Akron receives national recognition for efforts to end veteran homelessness

AKRON, Ohio -- As the Memorial Day weekend gets underway, the city of Akron has been given a rare designation for efforts to help address the needs of homeless veterans.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have given Akron a "functional zero" designation.

The designation recognizes that the city has the collective resources available to help get every homeless veteran off the streets.

Joe Scalise is a member of the committee that has worked since January 2016 with a goal to achieve the designation.

"Why the veteran population is particularly important to me is because of the sacrifices they have made for our country and the feeling for me that we should not forget about those sacrifices and what people have done and so we need to make sure in our community that we do everything we can to get that veteran into stable housing and to work through whatever situation they may be going through to make sure the resources are there," said Scalise.

Nowhere in Akron are they more aware of the need than at the Firestone VFW Post 3383, where once a year they invite in those in need and homeless veterans to try and offer then some help.

"We sign them up for the VA system if they are not in it; we have barbers who give haircuts and then we give them winter coats, sleeping bags, boots, socks underwear, toiletries. We serve them a meal," said post commander Mike Billich.

For the post's last 'stand down' in September, more than 350 veterans came to get some help. Some of them camped out the night before.

"Oh it's horrible. These guys need everything. They are living under bridges," said Mike Duvall, who serves on the Stand Down Committee.

And while the 'Functional Zero' recognizes that the city has the resources to be able to address the needs of every single homeless veteran in Akron, Scalise says the sad truth is that some of them will reject the offer.

"Some veterans might choose to stay in an encampment or not want to be involved with us but the important thing is the system is there and in place so when that veteran decides that he wants help we will be able to connect him with the resources," said Scalise.

At VFW Post 3383, just the fact that the city has placed such a high priority on its veterans is welcomed news.

"It's heartbreaking. I'm a veteran myself; I know what it's like. I don't know what it's like to be on the street but when they can't get a job because they are disabled, they have problems, mental problems and a lot of the veterans do have mental problems; they should be addressed," said Michael Yeater.​