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Wilkes-Barre VA surpasses goal for housing homeless veterans

The Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center surpassed its goal for housing homeless veterans in 2023.
The Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center surpassed its goal for housing homeless veterans in 2023.

The Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center housed 208 homeless veterans in 2023, surpassing a goal set by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Social worker Alexis Kelly sees two things in that number - their outreach efforts are working, and there are more veterans in the region in need of help to find affordable housing.

“What we’re seeing from our data is that there’s been an increase in homelessness population over the past, I think two years, the data has been showing,” Kelly said. “Some of that is the fallout from COVID still.”

The Wilkes-Barre VA’s initial goal was to find housing for 122 people.

Shannon McLafferty, Wilkes-Barre VA’s homeless coordinator and Grant Per Diem liaison, said “street outreach” had to stop during the height of the pandemic. In 2023, they were able to contact 169 homeless veterans in the community and connect them with housing resources.

“We have two…healthcare for homeless veterans outreach workers that really did a lot of street outreach this year,” she said. “So that means going to the soup kitchens, encampments and shelters to reach those unsheltered veterans…we beat our goal by 225 percent, which is astounding.”

When an unsheltered veteran gets to the VA, Kelly says they start with immediate needs like food and emergency shelter, then look for housing the veteran can afford.

If a veteran needs longer-term case management, Kelly works with them through her department HUD-VASH, which stands for Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing.

Kelly said finding affordable, quality housing has become more and more difficult as rents increase throughout the region.

“What we have seen a lot of in this area is outside investors coming in and buying a lot of the housing stock, then raising the rental prices above fair market rent,” Kelly said. “So we can't use the section eight housing voucher.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs will set goals for VA chapters this year, but McLafferty says the results from 2023 are a victory for the Wilkes-Barre VA.

“These numbers show…that the work that we’re doing is working,” she said.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of Morning Edition on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.