You Can Be a Social Worker, Coach and Career Practitioner When Guiding a Homeless Veteran to a Successful Resume

By Brad Allen

We live in a time and place where assisting veterans in transitioning into a successful career is a popular endeavor. Countless time and energy has been spent directing our former service personnel on how to articulate their resumes in a fashion that presents them in the best way possible and hopefully sends them on their way to landing interviews. The training often overlooks a very significant population within the veteran community, which is those who are experiencing homelessness. According to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, we have an estimated 49,933 veterans that are homeless on any given night. This number indicates that many veterans still face this barrier and special attention is required to address this situation.

The focus of addressing the housing crisis first is critical for success.
The success of any person in receiving career services requires them to consistently make scheduled appointments and follow through on assignments.  When a person is experiencing homelessness, they are less likely to do well in this area if their basic needs are not being met. Because of this, it is important for the career counselor to play somewhat of a social work role. A resource navigation process involves connecting the homeless person with the following:

•    Information on how to apply for emergency, transitional and permanent housing programs.
•    Connect with local food banks.
•    Resources to address any transportation issues.

A sustainable income to secure housing should be the foundation for career work.
In working with these struggling veterans, you must ask the question, “How can I help this person’s situation become more stable so career goals have a better chance of being accomplished?” By doing this, you might need to coach the client to get any type of job that will help them maintain self-sufficiency while setting longer-term goals for career aspirations. Relating this to writing a resume, it might be better to assist in crafting a “master” resume first that encompasses more of a variety of job-related skills to hopefully speed up the employment process to make ends meet.

The translation of military skills to civilian skills is still very important.
Like all other veterans, the proper translation of their military job and how it fits in the civilian world are good starting points in helping a homeless veteran articulate themselves on a resume. This translation can be done by taking their Military Occupational Specialty number (MOS) from their Department of Defense Discharge Report and plugging it into a military translator tool. The translator tool can be found on many online websites focused on assisting veterans in their careers. In order for this process to work the best, you must find one that comes up with information based on their branch of service, pay grade and military occupational title. With this, one should be able to get a civilian description of their military job which is helpful in deciding what type of wording is effective in crafting a resume. In working with homeless veterans, you may find out that many of their skills are outdated and no longer relevant to the workforce. A large portion of the homeless veteran population served during the Post-Vietnam Era, which ranges from 1974 to 1992 (before the Gulf War). In these situations, it is best to keep the focus on describing their time of service in more positive general terms which may include:

•    Discipline
•    Attention to detail
•    Leadership
•    Ability to work within a team

What is the best resume format to use?
The decision on which resume format to use can be a tricky one. In my work, the choice often comes down to which format best presents the veteran’s appropriate job skills, while also de-emphasizing the most glaring problem that arises as a result of their homeless status (which are gaps in employment). I found that the chronological/functional and the functional are the best suited to address this issue. It is important to not make assumptions about their situation. The veteran may not have any reliable forms of communication such as a phone or email, so it is important to help this person to access resources to address these issues. Many local Department of Labor offices and non-profits can help your client obtain access to a phone for little or no cost. In the case of email, you may have to assist the veteran in setting up an email account which is a good opportunity to assess the person’s familiarity with computers.

Slightly Different Approaches Work
My hope in writing this article is to shed some light on the various roles a career services practitioner takes on to serve the veteran community. Homeless veterans make up a unique population that requires a slightly different approach when it comes to writing resumes. Paying attention to all resources, roles and the needs of the vet can result in success.

Secretary Julian Castro. August 26, 2014. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Press Release. Retrieved from http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/press/press_releases_media_advisories/2014/HUDNo_14-103


Brad Allen currently serves as an employment specialist for Volunteers of America Colorado’s Back Home: Support Services For Veteran Families Program, where he provides job readiness training and job development services to low-income veteran families that live in the Denver Metro area. He has 14 years of experience working with the homeless population in his community with a special emphasis on substance abuse treatment, self-sufficiency and vocational services. His email is ballen@voacolorado.org

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Kathryn Troutman   on Sunday 02/01/2015 at 05:54 PM

I have recently coached a homeless man, age 61, in getting housing in a shelter, food stamps, Medicaid, and a job through a staffing agency. The shelter gave him a cellphone. And I applied for jobs for him. I wrote his resume in a chronological way. Lucky for him, he worked for me for about a year part-time in my book warehouse, so I was able to be a reference for him to get him into the staffing agency. He walks to the bus from the homeless shelter and goes to work everyday. He is very steady with his work. The shelter will give him first month rent and deposit for a room to rent, when he finds one. After he has two pay stubs to show that he can pay for the room. It is very challenging. He slept on his friend's sofas for 8 years until now he is at the shelter. I hope he can move out and get his own room, until he becomes eligible at least for some small retirement social security. It is amazing to watch a 100% blow poverty person try to get out on their own. It is incredibly difficult, and they CANNOT do it by themselves. Good luck for all that you do for the homeless.

Laird Crandall   on Sunday 02/08/2015 at 11:29 AM

I thought this a timely article as I listened to an NPR program about PTSD and unemployed veterans and have wanted to help. In tossing around the idea with colleagues one countered that many veterans don't respond well to non-military counselors. Wondering what others think.

Kathryn Troutman   on Sunday 02/08/2015 at 12:24 PM

Veterans are okay with non-military counselors I think, if you can get their attention and get them motivated to buy-in, collaborate and follow-up with you! I work with veterans and their federal job applications ... and my method to keep them engaged is to follow-up with THEM. I don't wait for them to get back to me. It requires continuous follow-up. But this approach does work. This is not a typical counseling collaborative style.

Brad Allen   on Monday 02/09/2015 at 04:34 PM

Laird, I would encourage you to help. In my experience, I have found that whether or not you are a military counselor is not really an issue. I think the main thing is that you offer enough expertise on the subject manner and are sensitive to the barriers they might be facing in furthering their career.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.