Helping fellow veterans find homes is the ‘best medicine’ for Catholic Community Services case manager
One hot day last July, Dave and Shannon Angwin found themselves unexpectedly homeless: While waiting for Dave’s veterans benefits to kick in, they were kicked out of the house that friends had been letting them use rent-free.
“We just kind of put ourselves into a situation where we depended on the wrong people,” Shannon said. She and Dave, who served two tours in Iraq with the Army, spent a night in their small SUV with their big dogs, Lucy and Lenny. They were facing the possibility of two weeks without a place to live.
“You’re pretty desperate and you’re feeling terrible about your decision-making skills,” Shannon said.
But the next day, the Angwins found hope.
At the local Veterans Administration office, their troubles were overheard by a coworker of Cesar Morales, a case manager with Supportive Services for Veterans Families, a program of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. They should drive right over to Morales’ office in Olympia, the coworker said.
“He was so incredibly welcoming,” Shannon recalled of that first meeting with Morales, who insisted they bring Lucy and Lenny out of the 90-degree heat and into the office. “He got a big water bowl for the dogs,” she said, then went to work helping the couple find housing and resources to get back on their feet. “He definitely had a talent for focusing on what we needed,” Shannon said.
Morales quickly found them temporary lodging, and within a week they moved into a modest one-bedroom apartment they could afford, with a security deposit paid by the CCS program.
Dave and Shannon Angwin. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Passion, networking are key
Morales, one of five case managers in the five-county program, is passionate about helping veterans, a carryover from his nearly 23 years in the Army that took him to conflicts around the globe, including Iraq, Kuwait and Somalia. As a command sergeant major at Arizona’s Fort Huachuca, home of the Army Intelligence Center, “I was so involved with the families,” he said. “I learned a lot about connecting them with civilian agencies there, being creative with solving problems.”
Those networking skills, a degree in psychology and his own experience with a service-connected disability are among the tools Morales brings to help “his” veterans. “I’m in heaven because this is my best medicine. I miss the military,” said Morales, who retired in 1998 from Fort Lewis and attends St. Mary Parish in Centralia. “I get to work with the people who need the most right
now. I feel needed.”
Morales and other case managers help veterans of all ages and walks of life with everything from VA benefits to medical treatment and marriage counseling, if they need that. “I make sure they get every benefit coming to them,” Morales said.
He drives some veterans to their medical appointments or shows them how to use the bus system. He links his veterans with community-based organizations that can provide additional help, and meets with landlords to pave the way for veterans needing a place to live. And when housing has been secured, Morales helps veterans and their families find jobs.
“Cesar is dedicated to helping end homelessness for veterans in Western Washington,” said Patti Spaulding-Klewin, veterans programs supervisor for CCS. “He believes in the mission of Catholic Community Services; he is committed to assisting veteran households struggling with poverty, housing, employment and reintegration to civilian life post-service.”
Cesar Morales meets with a veteran seeking assistance from the CCS Supportive Services for Veterans Families program. Photo: Stephen Brashear
‘Just a miracle’
For the Angwins, moving from Fort Hood, Texas, to the Puget Sound area was part of a long-term plan for their future, and the offer of rent-free housing in Yelm made it possible.
David enrolled at South Puget Sound Community College to complete his training as a welder and Shannon lined up a job as a barista. “They were expecting payment of his VA disability benefits, and once he enrolled in school, he would receive an additional stipend for rent,” Morales said.
But it takes about six weeks for that money to come in, Shannon said, leaving the couple stranded when their housing evaporated: They could afford rent or security deposits, but not both.
When they met Morales, he linked them with the local Wounded Warrior Project, which paid for gas, groceries and six days in a motel while Morales helped them find an apartment. The search was “a bit of a struggle,” Shannon said, because of Lucy, 12, a boxer-Rottweiler mix, and Lenny, 11, a pit bull.
Lenny has been important in Dave’s recovery from post-traumatic stress and a panic disorder. “When I got back from my second tour in Iraq, mentally I wasn’t doing very well,” Dave said. “Any time that I was starting to have a panic attack, [Lenny] was right there. He seemed to be able to sense that something was wrong with me.”
So Morales helped the couple get Lenny certified as an emotional support dog. “That definitely opened doors,” Shannon said, and saved the couple $500 on pet deposits. When the Angwins found an apartment, CCS paid the $880 rental deposit.
Morales also helped get them on food stamps, obtained vouchers from other agencies for job-interview clothing, sat down with the couple to review their budget, and connected Dave with job-search resources.
The Angwins are grateful to Morales and CCS for opening a pathway out of a bad situation. “We didn’t have the scope of vision to see where we should begin,” Shannon said. “CCS helped us formulate a plan and put it into action. They didn’t do the work for us, they didn’t swoop in and solve our problems; they showed us what steps we needed to take to stabilize our living situation.”
For veterans like the Angwins, Morales said, “this program is absolutely, totally, just a miracle.”
Supporting veterans and their families
Helping veterans like the Angwins who are homeless, or at risk of being homeless, is the mission of the Supportive Services for Veterans Families program. The focus is on rapidly finding veterans a place to live under their own lease, then providing case management and connecting them with support services to maintain that housing.
Funded by an annual $800,000 grant from the Veterans Administration, the “housing first” program is helping veterans in King, Kitsap, Pierce, Thurston and Snohomish counties. In October, Catholic Community Services began receiving an additional $1.5 million over three years to assist veterans in Pierce County, said Alan Brown, housing services director for CCS’ Family Housing Network in Tacoma.
The program helped more than 230 veterans in the past year, but the need is much greater, said Patti Spaulding-Klewin, supervisor of CCS veterans programs. CCS uses 60 percent of its grant to end actual homelessness, with the rest going toward homeless prevention services.
Veterans mainly get help with housing deposits and rents, but assistance can include things like furniture, utilities, transportation and child care. The program includes a housing stability plan, with veterans working on issues such as mental health, employment or benefits.
“For many of the folks we work with, this is the first time they’ve been homeless and they don’t know what to do or how to access resources,” Spaulding-Klewin said. For chronically homeless veterans, the focus is reconnecting them with the VA and “realizing that the VA is committed to helping them.”
Other ways CCS helps veterans
- Michael’s Place transitional housing in Seattle
- Beds earmarked for veterans at the CCS adult shelter in Tacoma
- Services in Snohomish County, including transportation, a navigator and housing programs
To donate or connect with CCS veterans programs, visit www.ccsww.org/homeless_vets.
Northwest Catholic - Nov. 2014
- ‘Prepares’ volunteer opens her heart to support young families
- New Bethlehem Place provides 24-7 shelter for homeless families
- Hygiene kits and masks from Seattle parishioners help homeless men stay safe
- CCS, St. Vincent de Paul receive 40,000 pounds of food from Latter-day Saints
- CCS, parishes distribute thousands of diapers to families in need during COVID-19