Funds cut, vets group may be forced to close
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org August 30, 2012 8:58PM
Free meals and clothing were handed out to homeless veterans at an April event sponsored by Veterans Outreach Program of Illinois at the National Guard Armory in Crestwood. Due to a lack of state funding, the program may be forced to close. | File photo
Updated: October 1, 2012 6:05PM
After 28 years of helping military veterans find work, the Veterans Outreach Program of Illinois is close to finding itself out of a job.
The Alsip-based nonprofit has been told there’s no money in this year’s state budget to fund its work, and cash reserves are close to exhaustion, according to James Jazo, executive director.
He’s laid off six full-time staffers who work with veterans, helping them craft resumes and drumming up job leads, and cut back hours at the organization’s offices in Alsip, Joliet and Cicero. Without a promise of state funding, the nonprofit might be forced to close its doors within a few weeks, Jazo said.
“We will continue to hold out as long as we can,” Jazo said.
He and other directors of the group are working to spread the word through area American Legions and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, hoping that, in turn, their members can lobby legislators to restore funding. In fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, Veterans Outreach received $325,000 through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Jazo said.
“It’s the first time we have never been funded,” he said.
Jazo said he began calling DCEO in June, prior to the July 1 start of the current fiscal year, to try to get a sense of how much money the organization would be in line for this year. He said Veterans Outreach has consistently surpassed job placement targets DCEO has set and has not been able to get a solid answer from the department on why funding was yanked.
In fiscal 2012, the department wanted Veterans Outreach to find jobs for 287 veterans, Jazo said. From June of last year through earlier this week, the organization placed 330 vets at an average hourly wage of $15.42.
A DCEO representative was unable Thursday to provide details regarding the possible status of funding for Veterans Outreach.
Beyond job-placement services at its three offices, Veterans Outreach holds job fairs — including one this past February in Orland Park that was attended by more than 300 veterans.
In April, more than 300 veterans, many of them homeless, received free clothing, meals, medical attention and temporary shelter during a stand-down the organization held at the National Guard Armory in Crestwood.
Jazo said Veterans Outreach has cash reserves set aside to anticipate glitches in funding from the state, but that even with reducing staff and limiting operating hours to three days each week, the organization will likely have to close its doors before the end of September.
“We don’t want to go away,” he said.