Incarcerated veterans and other veterans at risk of homelessness are being recruited for a new safety net program — a partnership between Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center, El Pomar Foundation, Pikes Peak Community College and the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.

The Mt. Carmel-led program, Veterans Climb, aims to help participants become self-sufficient by giving them “supportive, behavioral health, career and partnered services to achieve training, certification and employment into an in-demand career in one year,” according to Mt. Carmel COO Bob McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said PPCC President and El Pomar Pikes Peak Region Council member Lance Bolton set the ball rolling on the public-private partnership last summer, aiming “to do something meaningful to help prevent veteran homelessness.”

PPCC worked with Mt. Carmel to develop the Veterans Climb program in response to an effort from El Pomar’s Pikes Peak Region Council, Bolton explained via email, adding the council “identified homelessness as a key issue where we want to impact the community.

“After many conversations, we decided to really focus on trying to keep high risk people from becoming homeless, rather than focusing directly on those who are already homeless.

“Incarcerated veterans were identified as a high risk group, relatively small in numbers, where we might have a meaningful impact. Many folks leaving incarceration end up homeless and this is particularly concerning for veterans who’ve served our nation and experienced great hardship, PTSD, injuries, and other challenges through their service that might lead to substance abuse issues and eventually behaviors that might lead to incarceration. We’d like to help them get back on track.”

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Nicole Holling, Mt. Carmel’s director of veteran and family resources, said the goal in working with incarcerated veterans is to decrease the numbers going back into the prison system after their release.

“That [general recidivism] number across the U.S. is upward of 50 percent, so we’re trying to put programs in place to reduce that,” she said. “Any given Sunday in the [El Paso County Criminal Justice Center] here in Colorado Springs, there’s 100-120 vets in CJC, with 70-80 of them being in the veterans ward. So we’re trying to reach those … veterans in that population, and hopefully reduce that number for veteran recidivism in Colorado Springs.”

The U.S. Department of Justice “2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism” found an estimated 68 percent of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years, 79 percent were arrested within 6 years, and 83 percent within 9 years.

McLaughlin said Mt. Carmel, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is now recruiting veterans to participate in the program through its Employment and Transition Service, Veteran and Family Resources Service, and Behavioral Health & Wellness center.

“We’ve been in CJC and talked to some of the incarcerated veterans, and my staff is looking right now at who else that comes to Mt. Carmel might be a good fit,” he said. “… It’s always a risk when you’re working with people who have challenges, because you have to help them overcome the challenges to be successful. It’s a two-sided coin here: You have your service providers and those who need your service, and the only way to be successful is if it’s a good marriage, and people benefit, and they work hard to get to the next level.”

Without the right supportive services, at-risk veterans face “unemployment and homelessness, continued at-risk behavior, potentially drug addiction, family issues,” McLaughlin said.

“It’s not rocket science — the three parts of the program are supportive services, education and employment,” he said. “We believe that if somebody is down and out — whether they’re an incarcerated veteran or they have a behavioral health issue that is a hindrance to employment — the challenge is to help them leave those issues, which will lead to meaningful employment, which will lead to sustainable housing.

“We’re all about upward mobility in providing a hand up, not a hand out,” he added, “and we know that anyone who comes in to the program has to show a willingness to do better. We’re just providing the venue to do it with these partners.”

Through El Pomar funding, Mt. Carmel is leading case management as well as participant recruitment; PPWFC determines aptitude and interest for specific training; and PPCC provides training/certification and student support. Training will be funded through a veteran’s GI Bill benefits, the VA Vocational Rehabilitation program, or Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds, depending on eligibility, suitability or availability.

“We are excited that the community is becoming more aware of veteran homelessness and justice-involved citizens needing wraparound services as they are looking for work with sustainable wages,” Traci Marques, PPWFC president and CEO, said via email.

“We are grateful to El Pomar for the funding and the opportunity for us to enhance, braid and blend funding for services to veterans. This provides a great opportunity for the Workforce Center’s veterans’ staff to be able to have access to additional funds for services for veterans who have significant barriers to employment.”

El Paso County has also provided $10,000 in funding for Veterans Climb’s first year, McLaughlin said, adding he has also made a proposal to the city of Colorado Springs and is discussing the program with The Salvation Army, Crawford House, Greccio Housing and Weidner Apartment Homes.

“Really it’s about finding who are willing partners that would take on at-risk veteran populations knowing that they’re going to get the supportive services that we offer here at Mt. Carmel,” he said.

“What’s going to make programs like this successful is public-private partnerships; is the willingness of individuals across the community to see the benefit in such a thing,” McLaughlin said. “There’s a lot of good work going on in Colorado Springs to help end homelessness. I think what we’re bringing to the table with our partners is experience with supportive services, some great experience with education, and in the Workforce Center’s case, some great processes with employment.

“Bringing it all together, we think that we can make an impact.”