Veterans and members of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project gather for a Veterans’ Day lunch in 2011. Photo: BFHP
Veterans and members of the Berkeley Food and Housing Project gather for a Veterans’ Day lunch in 2011. Photo: BFHP

By Camille Baptista

Berkeley Food and Housing Project was recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last week with a grant of more than $1 million to expand its services to homeless veterans.

“This is huge for our agency,” Jim Huntley, BFHP director of advancement, said. “This is a population that really needs all the help that society can muster.”

The VA currently helps to fund the nonprofit’s small-scale men’s shelter, which has the capacity to provide food, shelter and other services to 12 homeless veterans at a time. With the help of the $1,007,000 Roads Home grant, the shelter will be able to increase the number of homeless veterans it can help and almost double the area it covers, by extending services to Solano and Contra Costa counties. The money will officially become available to the organization in October.

Not all of the grant money will go toward the nonprofit’s operations. According to Executive Director Terrie Light, $450,000 is specified for direct financial assistance to low-income veterans — for example, to temporarily pay rent or utility costs for veterans going through transition periods or who are in danger of becoming homeless.

Even so, Light said the remaining funds will have a significant impact on the nonprofit, which otherwise has an annual budget of $3.5 million.

While Berkeley Food and Housing Project will continue to focus on providing food and housing, a partnership with Anka Behavioral Health, Inc., will make mental health services available to the veterans as well. This side of the equation is particularly important for homeless people who have been in military service, as they have distinct mental health needs and exhibit higher rates of suicide.

Light said BFHP will hire a number of new staff members to orchestrate the expansion into new offices in Solano and Contra Costa counties, a task that will require logistical planning between now and October. BFHP and Anka will also hire a supervisor to oversee the joint team.

“We would hope to hire veterans — that’s our ideal candidates for this job,” Light said. “They can identify with people.”

Huntley said he is “personally overjoyed” that BFHP will now have a greater capacity to help veterans. According to Huntley, they are 50 percent more likely to fall into homelessness than non-veterans.

Light, whose husband is a Vietnam veteran, is also personally invested in helping veterans.

“He knows a lot of the people he was with over there,” she said of her husband. “They didn’t come back in mind and spirit, even if they came back in body.”

She said that while Berkeley Food and Housing encounters mostly veterans from the Vietnam war, she expects that with the expansion, it will find and help more recent veterans from the first and second Iraq wars, because there are more military families located in the Solano County area.

The grant is part of a recent federal campaign at the Department of Veterans Affairs to help end homelessness among veterans. Earlier this month, the agency announced its allocation of more than $300 million in grants to 319 local organizations across the United States. Other recipients included the East Bay Community Recovery Project and the East Oakland Community Project.

In addition to helping veterans, BFHP runs a number of other programs at different sites in Alameda County, including a women’s shelter, a men’s shelter, a women’s resource center, a mental health facility, and a free daily meal program called the Quarter Meal.

The VA grant comes just after the BFHP’s North County Women’s Shelter was recognized by EveryOne Home, a similar organization based in Hayward that works to increase housing accessibility for homeless and very low-income people in Alameda County. EveryOne Home selected the BFHP women’s shelter as the county’s “Most Improved Program” for its success in increasing the number of people it moved from the shelter into permanent homes by 63 percent last year. The Y & H Soda Foundation gave EveryOne Home a sum of $5,000 to allocate to the women’s shelter to honor its progress.

The two separate recognitions will fortify an organization that is always in need of funds as it continues to help a large number of homeless and low-income people in the East Bay.

“I feel personally moved about helping people that haven’t been as fortunate,” Light said.

She added that because the grant money is not available until October, BFHP’s current veterans services are limited, and those in need of immediate help should contact Operation Dignity.

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She grew up in Berkeley and now studies at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

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