Harvey Clark introduced our guest speaker, Patricia Hernandez, of Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS).

 

Patricia is a retired Marine drill instructor and chief of public affairs with 22 years of service. Upon retiring, she worked as a training manager for G4S, then as the director of the Veteran Program for Metris, LLC. She loved helping veterans, but the position at Metris was not as fulfilling as she desired, so she accepted a position at CASS as a veteran employment and benefits leader. “It doesn’t pay very much,” she told us, “but that’s ok, because the payment is in the heart. At the end of the day, I am very, very fulfilled.”

 

CASS is the largest homeless shelter in Arizona. It opened its doors in 1984. Since then, they have been open 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, 365 days/year. CASS has two sections: the civilian portion, and the veteran portion. The veteran side has case managers, employment and benefits specialists, and a VA representative. Sometimes CASS feeds up to 1100 people per day.

 

As an employment and benefits specialist, Patricia helps veterans find the resources they need, and persists with them to be sure they get the benefits, help, opportunities, and encouragement that they need to become self-sufficient again. “We try to give them as much training, skills, and certification as we can in order to employee them, because the key is to empower them. Those that can work: let’s put them to work. Those that need benefits: I will assist them with their benefits. Those that have back child support: we have advocates that can assist them.” Once a veteran gets a job, Patricia helps to motivate and coach them to be sure they keep the job.

 

One of Patricia’s favorite tools is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). WOTC is a Federal tax credit available to employers for hiring people from various target groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment. Employers can receive a $9,600 tax credit for hiring a homeless veteran who is on SNAP (food stamps). Patricia shared a story about a transport company owner who, upon learning of WOTC, not only hired the individual Patricia was currently working with, but also brought on three additional veterans as drivers and dispatchers.

 

There are currently 80 veterans living at CASS, divided among three levels. Level three is for “grant/per diem veterans.” Each veteran has a cubicle area with a little bit of comparative privacy and security. Residents share a day room with level two residents. Level three is primarily for veterans who have found employment or are going to a trade school and are working to get back on their feet. The maximum time individuals can stay at CASS is two years.

 

Level two houses veterans who have proven that they are actively seeking employment and following rules. There are two beds per cubicle. Level one offers bunk beds and floor mats. Veterans stay in level one when they first come to the shelter. People cannot come into level one or two until after 3pm, as they are expected to spend the day job hunting or taking care of medical and dental appointments.

 

Meals are served three times per day during the week, and twice daily on the weekends at St Joseph the Worker, St. Vincent DePaul, and Andre House, which are all located in the same area as CASS.

 

Patricia summed up her dedication to helping military veterans, “If it wasn’t for our veterans and everything they’ve done in the past, we wouldn’t have a future.”