Hi! My name is Brianna Bueltmann, and I am the new Elks Scholar Fellow for the Elks National Veterans Service Commission. I graduated from Harvard University in 2016 with a degree in Sociology and came to the Elks after two years of post-graduate travel and research. Immediately after college, I had a travel fellowship that allowed me to live in Ecuador, Colombia, Germany, and Italy for one year. More recently, I worked with the Poverty and Inequality Research Lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, doing sociology research on housing, landlords, families, and neighborhood change.
I was drawn to this fellowship because I am passionate about ending homelessness. Rural poverty has long been close to my heart, and volunteering in homeless shelters while studying sociology further opened my eyes to urban poverty and housing issues. Everyone deserves a home. Having worked as a case manager and directed a transitional housing program, I saw how many barriers to housing and gaps in service there were for people experiencing homelessness. The Elks have taken an innovative and entrepreneurial approach, stepping in to provide vital resources that don’t exist elsewhere and make a real difference in the lives of veterans and their families.
Most people think that homelessness could never happen to them, but the reality is that more than half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and would be unable to handle a financial emergency if it happened to them. There are over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States, and it’s estimated that as many as 39,000 of them are veterans. On top of the widespread issue of finding affordable housing, veterans are especially vulnerable to experiencing homelessness because of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and difficulty translating military skills into private sector careers.
In the National Veterans Service Scholar Fellow position, I help run the Welcome Home programs working to serve veterans in need. Our Emergency Assistance Fund helps keep veterans at risk of homelessness stably housed by providing a one-time grant for emergency assistance to get caught up on rent, provide security deposits for new apartments, keep gas and electricity turned on, and help veterans sustain meaningful employment.
Our Welcome Home Kit program helps veterans exiting homelessness and moving into permanent housing by connecting them with Elks members in their community to help provide furniture and basic household items like bedding, dishes, pots and pans, toiletries, and small kitchen appliances – the necessities anyone would need to get started in a new home.
As a part of the fellowship, I also get to work outside the office two days a week, volunteering at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center food pantry. We serve over 150 veterans in need every Tuesday by providing an array of robust groceries with many options for them to choose. I will also start volunteering Thursdays at a local Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC), working closely with homeless veterans and their social workers.
I really appreciate how this fellowship gives me the opportunity to work directly with the veteran population we serve. Direct service helps keeps us grounded in our mission, and working more closely with social workers and veterans can help us learn more about how we can better meet their needs.
I am looking forward to my next two years with the Elks, excited to see the Welcome Home program develop even further and ready to work together to serve our veterans!