No home for the brave: Homeless veterans in Wichita

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

Thursday is the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, but for the men and women who serve our country coming home isn't always a welcome home. In 2015 there were 59 homeless veterans in Wichita. Michael lee is a disabled veteran.

"Under bridges" Lee said. "You know shacks, abandoned buildings."

He can rattle off places he has lived in Wichita, but after years on the streets he is working with Passageways, a non-profit, to help him get off the streets and shake homelessness for good.

"Stuff happens, and then it takes you down the wrong path, and when you go down the wrong path you need help getting out," Lee said.

Lee is not alone in his struggle. Melissa Gronau is the health care for homeless veterans coordinator at the Robert J. Dole VA Center. She places veterans in this emergency shelter in downtown Wichita 

"Right now there are 19 veterans in the facility," Gronau said. "A couple of months ago it was at full capacity. At that time we utilized community shelters to make sure there were no veterans on the street if they chose to be sheltered."

Yet, finding a roof for the night is just one issue when dealing with homeless veterans. 

"They don't have their social security card," Gronau said. "They don't even have a photo ID or a birth certificate, so we have to be creative and start from scratch to help them re obtain those documents, which they are going to need if they are going to obtain employment or get into permanent housing."

Often times the Gronau sees veterans when they are at their lowest.  Antonio Macias was facing a life without home.

"I was working 3rd shift and I'd gotten off work and a friend of mine called and said dude just go to the VA. I walked in and said all right I need help," Macias said.

Macias like lee now live at passageways. It is transitional housing for homeless veterans. Macias admits its been tough

"We had a three bedroom home and I had a place for my kids to come on the weekends, I've had to condense all that to not very much."

After losing his job following a back injury Macias now has to train for a new job.

For Michael Lee Passageways has been a lifesaver.

"If it wasn't for them, I'd probably be in a box," Lee said.

After years spent on the streets Lee knows after awhile it very difficult to break the cycle of poverty and substance abuse.

"I'm seeing people in the streets who are past the point of help. You know they need to go in a hospital get refocused, reprogrammed and come out in society again," Lee said.

However, it is hard to become a productive member of society in a shelter. One of the biggest hurdles is finding permanent housing. 

"Identifying landlords willing to work with our veterans, a lot of times veterans are unemployed when they come to us and have barriers that have led to them being unemployed. So, helping to connect them with job programs, educational benefits and employers that are willing to work with our veterans," Gronau said.

The number on homeless veterans is improving. 139 veterans this year alone have already been housed through work with the VA and community groups like Passageways. For now Macias tells his kids this:

"They are 8,7 and 6, right now daddy is trying to get his stuff together, so we can go back to having family movie night and cinnamon rolls for breakfast, little things," Macias said.

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