Wade Spees // The Post and Courier

George Krowska, 62, is an Army veteran staying at Crisis Ministries. He is one of an estimated 250,000 veterans in the U.S. who are homeless at any given moment.

George Krowska traveled to Myrtle Beach this spring after a relationship went sour.

He had been staying in a Colorado shelter for a couple of months, the first time in his life the 62-year-old Army veteran was homeless. But in Myrtle Beach, he was abandoned, he said.

Krowska has a heart blockage that qualifies him for disability benefits and requires a certain proximity to a VA hospital, so he hitchhiked to Charleston. At the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, he received treatment, learned about Crisis Ministries, the area's homeless shelter and got a bus pass.

The former construction worker is living off of $923 a month, but cannot work because of his heart. More than two months into a maximum 90-day stay, he said he's growing worried about where he'll go next.

Krowska's circumstances are typical for a Vietnam-era homeless veteran, according to shelter officials. And he is just the sort of person the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs expects to assist with its latest drive to address homelessness. Through a new funding campaign and the strengthening of public-private partnerships around the nation, the VA hopes to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

Homeless housing

On Tuesday, the VA announced that Crisis Ministries won a $1 million grant to help veterans and their families in the tri-county area.

The grant money is earmarked for operational costs as the shelter ramps up its veteran services. Currently, the dormitories include 10 beds specifically allocated to female veterans and 14 beds meant for male veterans. The shelter offers veterans job-preparation training, counseling and legal support services to help secure benefits.

The new grant will enable staff to initiate a distinct veterans program, in partnership with the local nonprofit Family Services Inc., that assigns a "navigator" who can serve as a single point of contact and "(help) people navigate through all the systems and services that they have to access," according to Crisis Ministries' Grants Director Amy Zeigler.

The initiative will emphasize housing placement for homeless veterans and help at-risk veterans avoid losing their homes, Zeigler said. Crisis Ministries will provide case management and counseling while Family Services helps with housing and financial services.

"The real idea of it is that you follow them very closely, get them the services they need, and get them into housing," she said.

The grant comes on the heels of a July 14 joint announcement by the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development about nationwide funding for veterans' housing programs. HUD's Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) will distribute vouchers worth a total of nearly $46.3 million. In South Carolina, the Housing Authority of Charleston will receive 25 vouchers worth $137,000, and the Housing Authority of Columbia will receive 50 vouchers worth $228,000.

Crisis Ministries staff estimate there are 400 to 500 homeless veterans in the Charleston area during the course of the year, about half of whom will benefit directly from the new grant, which is part of the VA's new Supportive Services for Veteran Families program.

"This new homeless prevention program will provide new hope and comprehensive support to Veterans who have served honorably, but now find themselves in a downward spiral toward despair and homelessness," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement. "This program expands our capacity to act before a veteran becomes homeless and to target the problem of family homelessness. These grants would not have been possible without the extraordinary partnerships forged with community organizers who are firmly committed to making a positive difference in lives of veterans and their families."

Linda Williams, homeless program coordinator at the VA Medical Center in Charleston, said the grant is a boon for local service providers.

"Supportive Services will enhance veteran options for placement success," she wrote in an e-mail. "Community resources are almost non-existent. This grant will enable veterans with limited funds to move forward to permanent placement with needed funds and skills."

Stacey Denaux, executive director of Crisis Ministries, said it's easy to demonstrate the strength and effectiveness of the shelter's programs, but difficult to secure meaningful funding, especially during the ongoing federal budget crisis.

A partnership

The new $1 million VA grant is unusual in that it provides significant funds to an initiative that's designed to aid relatively few people, Denaux said.

"From where we sit it's a good thing because you can really concentrate your efforts on a significant subsection of the homeless population," she said. "It's ideal and very rare because, usually, programs or grant sources want you to help as many people as possible. But with an issue like homelessness, you need to be able to do a lot for a smaller number of people. The intensity of the services is what helps turn it around for people."

Denaux said the grant opens a door to an exciting partnership with Family Services. "It's a good way to demonstrate to others that you really can collaborate," she said.

David Geer, executive director of Family Services, said his agency and Crisis Ministries have many clients in common and have worked together for years. "We transfer a lot of clients back and forth, so this is a very natural progression for us," he said.

Family Services already helps veterans and others manage their benefits and income, and it identifies short-term housing solutions thanks to the Homeless Prevention Rapid Rehousing Program, administered by HUD and funded by federal stimulus money, Geer said.

The grant is the result of three months of intense preparations, Zeigler said.

"Pretty much from December through mid-March we were working on it pretty steadily," she said.

It's the third grant worth $1 million or more that Crisis Ministries secured in the past fiscal year. Two were capital grants to assist with the construction of the shelter's new building. The VA provided $1.2 million for the veterans' dormitory, and Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta allocated $1 million to the general building fund.

To date, about $4.5 million has been raised toward a $6 million goal, according to Development Director Steffanie Godsill.

Groundbreaking on the new campus is planned for October.

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902 or on Facebook.