In the Trenches for the Troops: Rehousing Veterans

Jessica Schrantz ’11-’15m doesn’t come from a military family, but you wouldn’t know that based on her passionate work with veterans. 

Schrantz became a case manager in Upper Bucks County for Hope for Veterans (HFV, Inc.) in October 2013. The nonprofit offers Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) through which Schrantz and her colleagues provide rapid rehousing and homeless prevention services.

Dr. Barbara Denison (left), professor of sociology and anthropology, encouraged Jessica Schrantz '11-'15 to return to Ship for her master's degree.

Dr. Barbara Denison (left), professor of sociology and anthropology, encouraged Jessica Schrantz '11-'15 to return to Ship for her master's degree.

It was through her undergraduate and graduate work with Dr. Barbara Denison and Dr. Debra Cornelius of Ship’s Sociology and Anthropology Department that Schrantz’s career took shape. Schrantz said a senior seminar on war taught by Cornelius really opened her eyes to veterans affairs.

Every family, every veteran, is absolutely 110 percent different from the next veteran.

Schrantz described her work with homeless veterans through HFV, Inc., as different every day. “Every family, every veteran, is absolutely 110 percent different from the next veteran.”

Rapid rehousing provides services to homeless veterans to get them rehoused and stabilized quickly. Rehousing can range anywhere from two weeks to one month. According to Schrantz, the HFV program has a twenty-four-hour referral line so that a struggling vet can call anytime.

If the vet fulfills certain criteria, such as income and residency prevention, he or she then meets with an eligibility screener, completes paperwork, and is assigned to a case manager like Schrantz.

“I meet with the veteran wherever that may be,” she said, even if that means visiting a tent city in the woods. 

“Housing is the first goal. You can’t get a job if you don’t have an address.”

Once housed, she links veterans to services that can increase their income. She also provides assistance with childcare expenses, utility bills, moving expenses, or whatever else is needed. 

“You name it, we do it,” she said. “It’s rebuilding an entire family.”

Jessica Schrantz '11-'15M presents her research at a conference in Ohio.

Jessica Schrantz '11-'15M presents her research at a conference in Ohio.

Although Schrantz swore she wouldn’t go back to school, Denison convinced her. In 2014, Schrantz returned to Ship to complete her master’s degree in organizational development and leadership. “Barb actually came to my work to bring me donations for homeless vets. She took me to lunch and said, ‘By the way you’re going back to grad school in the summer.’ She said, ‘If you do it right you’ll technically only be in college for a year, and you’ll get your master’s degree.’” 

She worked under Denison’s guidance to complete research on rapid rehousing of homeless veterans. Her presentation was accepted at the North-Central Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. The conference provided a great channel for Schrantz to promote an important cause. 

“I think it really opens up the awareness,” she says. “Veterans fought for our country. They put their lives on the line, and now they’re homeless.” 

At the conference, Schrantz’s audience was surprised to learn that homelessness is an ongoing struggle in Bucks County, particularly because it is perceived as such an affluent area. She said they also were shocked by the age range and gender of her clients. “A lot of people, when they think of a veteran, they think of a WWII or Vietnam vet. The majority of my caseload is single women, women with kids, and people under the age of thirty-five.”

One of the greatest rewards for Schrantz is the appreciation veterans demonstrate for the program. They keep in touch, even once they are discharged. “I think that’s the coolest thing about it. I’ll get a text message or an e-mail, or someone will send me a picture of a family, and it’s awesome to see them doing well.” 

When she started as a case manager, Schrantz expected to help 250 veterans that year, but she quickly surpassed 300. “One year I helped this family. The boyfriend passed away. They had two kids. I got them three weeks before Thanksgiving and they were homeless with nowhere to go. Every day I had to try to find someone to pay for a hotel room for this family. I said to the family, ‘I’m going to make sure you’re in a house by Thanksgiving.’ And you know what? I pulled it off.”

Schrantz encourages others to volunteer and make a difference. “You might not want to be the person who goes out in the woods looking for homeless people, and I understand that, but there are so many ways for people to get involved. Find a cause; find what’s important to you, and run with it.”