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Financial trouble and a lack of support or safety nets are compounded by the psychological conditions many face. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported that some 400,000 vets have reported symptoms of traumatic brain injury. Another 200,000 have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
"A lot of times, they either have mental health or alcohol and substance-abuse issues," said social worker John Smith. "Because of those issues, they often burn their bridges with family and friends and have nowhere to go."
Smith works with the men on goals they want to achieve while in transitional housing.
"Not many have an income when they arrive, so it is a matter of connecting them to benefits and finding employment."
He never realized how widespread homelessness is among veterans until he started working with them.
"A lot of these guys are very proud and don't want to ask for help," Smith said. "That is why they will live in their cars or their tents."
The program gets referrals from county agencies, the Veterans Administration and homeless shelters. Veterans come from as far as Chicago and as close as Janesville.
"We are the last chance for a lot of guys," Smith said.
Last year, 68 percent of the men in the program found independent housing, which is above the national average of 55 percent for similar kinds of programs.
Don Janes has been the program director since October.
"Many of these guys have been struggling with their lives for a long time," he said. "Often, they just need some time to stop bouncing from one thing to the next. Each has his own unique story."
Janes praises the community, including local businesses, who donate money and items, including toiletries, pillows, blankets and coats, to support the program.
Nationally, the number of homeless veterans appears to be dropping.
In November, a survey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development counted almost 58,000 homeless vets, a decrease of 24 percent during the last six years.
However, vets still make up a disproportionate number of the nation's homeless population. In fact, a federal government study of the problem in 2011 revealed that veterans are 50 percent more likely to become homeless than other Americans. In addition, minority vets have an even greater chance of ending up on the streets or in homeless shelters.
Gross is hopeful about the future.
"Being here has given me a chance to slow down the racing thoughts in my head and to think about what I want to do in life," he said. "I feel like I'm a success story, but I'm not back on my feet yet."
An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by The Janesville Gazette