Akron Beacon Journal: Veteran off the streets for Christmas
By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer
Published: December 21, 2010 - 07:28 PM
Gregory Flint will not spend this Christmas living in a tent.
A year ago, Flint, a 48-year-old Air Force veteran, was living in a small tent near dozens of other homeless people just north of downtown Akron.
But after making connections with social workers throughout the community, he has been living in a federally subsidized Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority apartment of his own in southwest Akron for nearly six months.
"I feel blessed," said Flint, who had lived in a tent for about five years and had been homeless off and on for twice as long.
"I'm like a human being again," said Flint, a Kenmore High School graduate.
Even with his good fortune of finally living off the streets, Flint has not thrown out his old tent.
He keeps it in a closet in his small apartment.
"It's for emergencies," he said, or for one of his homeless friends who still might need it.
Flint was quoted in a Beacon Journal story in late January, when a group of community volunteers went out to count the city's homeless population.
The next homeless "Point in Time" count will be Jan. 25.
During the January count, volunteers gave Flint some Metro bus passes, McDonald's gift cards, potato chips and winter clothing. He told the volunteers he was warm because he had five sleeping bags, given to him by other volunteers with the group Springtime of Hope.
Soon after, Diane Waite, a social worker at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, began trying to find Flint permanent housing.
Because of Flint's veteran status, Waite was able to place him in the Akron apartment in late July through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development/Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program.
For Flint and other veterans in the program, the VA provides case managers, Waite said.
Because Flint has no income other than about $200 a month in food stamps, he pays nothing for the apartment, which Waite estimates costs the federal government about $500 a month.
She said there are six veterans — like Flint who had been living in the campsite near the Furnace Street Mission on Furnace Street — who have been placed in apartments or are in the process of getting one.
She said she is working with 40 individuals or families, all veterans who had been homeless, to find them housing.
"It is really mind-boggling," that so many veterans are in need of housing assistance, she said, acknowledging that there are some cases of "personal choice."
Flint, she said, "had to be ready to receive help. Not everybody is ready at the exact moment."
Sue Pierson, vice president of services for Info Line and chair of the Akron/Summit/Barberton Continuum of Care for the Homeless organization, a group of about 20 agencies that provides services to the homeless in the region, said the yearly Point in Time count is not aimed solely at gathering numbers of homeless but it also "gives us an opportunity to begin a dialogue with those living on the streets and in tents."
She said those on the street, as Flint was a year ago, "are some of the hardest to engage in services."
Social workers and volunteers who develop relationships with those living on the streets or in tents, she said, learn that many of the homeless "assumed that since they were homeless they were not eligible for any services."
Flint, who was in the Air Force for eight years as an air frame repair specialist, said he enjoys his apartment and is glad he no longer sleeps in the cold in a tent.
"I was living like an animal," he said.
Next year, veterans like Flint will be able to find help through the planned Valor Home, a shelter for as many as 30 veterans to be built on East Waterloo Road in Akron. Family and Community Services of Portage County will serve as the site administrator.
Flint said that until he moved into his apartment, he was living "in all kinds of crazy places" and making it one day at a time.
During those years of living on the streets and in fields, he said he wondered if he would ever get a place of his own.
"I kept praying," he said.
For help finding housing, call Info Line officials at 330-315-1381.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.