11/11/2014 04:02 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2014

The Amazing Way One Urban Ministry Is Serving Veterans Who Are Homeless


At Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries (RMM) in New York, honoring those who have served in the military goes beyond just observing Veterans Day.

After the holiday is over, the ministry's work continues through its Homecoming Life Skills Empowerment Program, called "Homecoming" for short. This 14-week, 28-session program serves homeless veterans by offering them assistance to develop life skills and recover from trauma they may have experienced as a result of military service and homelessness upon returning.

Central to this ministry is the role of community, RMM Executive Director Tiffany Triplett Henkel told HuffPost by email. As veterans gain tools to help them improve their lives, they also have opportunities to share their stories, form support networks and develop relationships with mentors -- who are typically veterans, themselves.

"Participants have described their experience with the program as a form of 'home' for them -- not the reason for the name, but certainly a goal for us," Henkel said.

RMM partnered with the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing and the Beck Institute on Religion and Poverty at Fordham University to bring the program into fruition. Eight to twelve participants are enrolled per class and work through the 28 sessions before graduating from the program.

Henkel noted that New York's veteran population - which numbers close to 900,000 in the state -- is among the most vulnerable the ministry serves. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that roughly 12% of homeless adults in the U.S. are veterans.

"While we can’t meet every need or address all the complexities that homeless veterans are facing," Henkel said, "we do feel that Homecoming provides a unique base of support where individuals can enter at whatever the stage of their journey and find a caring and empowering community."

A typical class session entails a mixture of activities, ranging from goal setting to case management, according to RMM's website. Classes typically begin with a shared meal and reflection on a scriptural passage or inspirational reading, and the ministry states that all religions are welcome.

Guest speakers then offer presentations on topics like "self-image" and "healthy relationships," followed by one-on-one goal setting discussions between participants and mentors. Next participants are invited to share personal stories and life experiences, after which social work case workers join the meeting to provide support to veteran-mentor pairs.

Sessions close with a community meeting attended by public officials and community members to discuss the public policies relating to veteran homelessness, as well as a graduation where participants, congregants, instructors and friends and family celebrate the program's completion.

Bob Baer, a veteran and RMM board member, spoke about Homecoming in an address to the congregation at Metro Baptist Church last year around Veterans Day. In the address, published on RMM's website, Baer spoke of the difficulties returning soldiers face as they reenter civilian life.

"Returning soldiers have, by definition, changed in ways that are enormous and of course are linked to the individual’s particular experience," Baer said.

Baer continued that his involvement with Homecoming has been both a powerful way of serving the community and an integral part of his "personal homecoming process as a veteran."

For Veterans Day RMM sent out a email newsletter about Homecoming, encouraging supporters to donate to the ministry so it can continue serving homeless veterans through its programs.



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