DENVER (CBS4)– The latest wave of homeless veterans is mothers, and that’s putting a strain on shelters. While the federal government reimburses shelters for non-veterans and their families, the Veterans Administration will only reimburse for veterans, not their children.
“So you have to make the choice of whether to live in your car or separate from your kids so you have a place to stay. Come on, that’s a no brainer,” said DeLisa Smith-Martin.
An eight-year Army veteran, she says the only shelter that would take-in her kids when she left her abusive husband was the Comitis Crisis Center in Aurora. She was living in Georgia at the time.
“So, I packed up my car and my kids and took the few hundred dollars I had and I drove to Colorado.”
She’s not alone, says James Gillespie at Comitis.
“Right now, we’re seeing a lot of veteran women who are homeless, who have children with them, who are having a hard time accessing safe shelter all across the nation because currently federal funds are only paying for the veteran but won’t cover the cost of the children as well,” said Gillespie.
Comitis is one of the few that will. Gillespie says they take in nearly 90 veterans and their kids each year at a cost of nearly $280,000 that’s not reimbursed. The center provides not only shelter, but counseling and job training. Smith-Martin says it helped her turn her life around.
“They provided me with the tools and the resources to get myself back on track. It basically saved my life,” said Smith-Martin.
Colorado’s Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner says homeless veterans shouldn’t have to worry about shelter for their kids, “I think people expect us take care of our veterans.”
Gardner has introduced a bill to reimburse shelters that take in veterans’ children.
“If it’s a parent, a mom or a dad who’s a veteran and they have a child, that can effect more than one generation and this really does disrupt that generational effect of homelessness and how we get people back on their feet,” said Gardner.
Six years after Smith-Martin left Comitis, she has her own home.
She says she couldn’t have made it without the shelter and without her kids, “Every single time I started to feel sorry for myself or I wanted to just let go I thought about my kids. The system is broken. It’s broken and we have to do something about it.”
Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is co-sponsoring the bill with Gardner.