By Mikala McCurry
Faith Church on Highland Avenue in Montgomery, AL is now home to a program designed to rebuild, restore and renew unhoused veterans.
Susan Alton Johnson with Faith House Community Services had the passion and desire to help other veterans after driving around town and seeing them on the streets. Her organization started with all volunteers and has now evolved to a full-service residential program with 24-hour on-site staffing for unhoused veterans.
“Our goal is to be able to transition veterans to independence so that they can live successfully, sustainably, and independently,” Johnson said. “Usually people feel like they’re in a shelter, but here, they feel like they’re at home.”
Faith House accepted its first veteran resident in October 2021. Now, veterans often come to Faith House by referrals.
At Faith House, all residents have their own private, lockable room with a clean bed, fresh linens, and their own toiletries. They are also provided with three meals a day, including a hot meal every night.
Once residents are ready to transition to their next phase of independence, Faith House provides them with essential items that the individuals will need to get them started. These items are donated by members of the community. Faith House also helps their residents with apartment applications, school applications, and any other services needed for their transition.
“In less than six months, we’ve already had a few people transition into their own living arrangements and are sustaining on their own,” Johnson said. “We also have a person going to school now and a few who are working full time. These were people who were living on the street or in a bad shelter situation before coming here.”
During their stay at Faith House, residents are taught responsibility and life skills, such as budgeting, time management, and employment skills, to be able to live independently.
“One of the biggest barriers for veterans is often accessibility to services. What we provide allows veterans to get services right here in the community, and that’s a first. We’re able to help people where they live,” Johnson said.
Faith House is also able to accommodate all levels of disability, from physical to emotional to mental and intellectual.
“We try to have programs that accommodate and meet whatever the needs are of our veterans, and we are able to tailor programs and services specifically to the needs of individuals,” Johnson said.
With limited access to the Veterans Administration, the veterans in the Montgomery area who don’t qualify for services at the VA now have access to needed programs through Faith House.
“There’s a lot of regulation with the VA, such as you can’t have a dishonorable discharge or anything below a general discharge for veterans to be eligible for most of the services offered through the VA,” Johnson said. “A lot of the veterans who are referred to us meet that criteria or are awaiting interviews with the VA. An official at the Veterans Administration said we are catching people who are falling through the cracks.”
Faith House also works with partners to try to help veterans who have below a general discharge to get upgraded to a general discharge so they can be eligible for other benefits and services.
“Everybody doesn’t integrate back into the community successfully after serving in the military. Some can, but some struggle with it tremendously. We’re here for those people,” Johnson said.
Faith House depends heavily on donations and the generosity of businesses and organizations to provide these services and programs to veterans.
“We work with different companies that offer discounts because we serve people who have given their lives,” Johnson said. “Our motto is to try to get others to understand that for people who have given so much, we need to try to help serve them now.”
Faith House currently has the capacity to serve 20 veterans at a time in their residential program. They are also working to expand to serve female veterans and their children.
“Our goal is to make sure people aren’t embarrassed because of their current situation. Everybody deserves the opportunity to thrive, and that’s what we want to provide,” Johnson said.
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