Updated: Dec 5, 2019
In June of 2013, my office administrator received a phone call from a homeless shelter in Norfolk VA “For Kids” emergency& transitional shelter for women and children. One of the very best homeless services organizations in the State, and others that I’m familiar with on the east coast.
My experience and connections with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and U.S. Department of Housing & Human Services SAMHSA, I was listed as President of Beacon Institute: Veteran Pathways Home (BI:VPH) contact on their networks and notifications list of new programs services delivery, but not necessarily ‘military’ specific. Recently a new HUD program was launched, “Rapid Re-Housing” for the specific purpose of housing the nations homeless by 2020, the goal of eliminating most of the nation’s rising homeless populations overall.
As another mission became ‘Housing for Heroes” of Beacon Institute: Veteran Pathways Home, I was intent on solving the 9,000+ homeless service member, veteran, & family (SMVF) crisis in Hampton Roads, Region V (State of Virginia Veterans Services). Hampton Roads as our immediate focus; the largest military homeless population, in the State of Virginia.
I submitted a request for inclusion in the general plan and program, but as military support specific for our organization, and support services, communicated the intention to modify the concept, and implement using our continuum of care, with emphasis military connect, and mental/behavioral health program pre-requirement. I was able to do so, based on financial independence and NOT applying for grants or other government funding to conduct the program.
Therefore, a ‘go ahead’ and ‘best of luck’, set up a formal referral system, including a relationship with ‘For Kids’.
Working with V.A. Medical Center representatives, State of Virginia Veterans Services, and other government agencies, to receive their homeless military referrals. In addition, I initiated Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) with shelter care providers and veteran service organizations to receive their referrals, in order to place military homeless into permanent housing.
Ashley W. a female U.S. Army Veteran, (Post 9/11), honorably and with an 80% Disability Rating and Medically Discharged from service, with $ 400.00 per month disability income. A single mother, with three children, ages 2, 3 and 4, had lost her home due to domestic violence, and a husband incarcerated for a year. She’d been awarded child support of $ 300 a month, to care for her children, but was uncollectible due to his imprisonment.
Based on limited to $ 400.00 a month gross income, considered impoverished by social services, thus received SNAP (Special Needs Assistance Program), otherwise known as ‘food stamps’. Unable to work consistently due to her disabilities, lack of day care, and care-giver support locally, with extended relatives out of state, in a small mid-west town, and financially incapable of assistance, resources were nearly non-existent. Not to mention, that moving to ‘home town’, the nearest V.A. Medical Center was over 90 miles away, and regular medical and mental health care hard to reach, otherwise.
Our BI:VPH Housing for Heroes Program Manager, Michelle (Navy Veteran), and The Mission Continues Fellow provided us – as transitioning to ‘non-military’ workforce development experience. In turn, she received and the referral forms--- and coordinated with Amanda, our Intern. Amanda’s internship was provided by Old Dominion University, who required credits & experience to achieve her B.A. in Human Services degree under my supervision.
Amanda immediately contacted Ashley, scheduling a ‘client services assessment meeting’ at our Fox Hill location. Fox Hill was a rental housing community, partner-owned by a Navy wife with a true understanding and commitment to help other military members. Fox Hill was conveniently located near the Hampton V.A. Medical Center, accessible by public bus services, to our location at Fox Hill. “Housing for Heroes’ outreach center. We also negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with a Veteran-Owned Property Management Company, promoting agreements with all of their landlords’ approval provide ‘special needs’ rentals/rates housing for the Housing for Heroes program clients.
With the ‘best of luck’ freedom to mandate a ‘pre-requisite for services’, all ‘Homeless Military Members’ had to complete our Peer-to-Peer Courage to Change® U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) SAMSHA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration) 16-hour Level I Action Planning for Prevention & Recovery (APPR) orientation program. In short, the APPR is also crisis intervention care, wellness and resiliency training, inclusive of self-managed care development skills, coping physical and mental health challenge tools, advocating for themselves (with family or peer assistance) modifications in care, goals and objectives for implementing the vision of the healthy, stable future they desired (and deserved).
Once Ashley W, completed the two-day class in a group setting with other peers, Amanda became her ‘Coach’ to assist individually weekly for six months minimum, (expanded if necessary) connecting Ashley with immediate lease for a 3 bedroom ground floor apartment (provision of temporary housing community funds resource rental pay for minimum 6 months, and college connect to obtain her GI Bill (Post 9/11) funds benefits that included monthly housing allowance )as long as grades/attendance achieved) as long as needed for the mother to achieve a nursing certification & degree. Child care during school hours was also obtained.
Ashley was only 26 years old in 2013, a single mother of three small children when we provided the program, housing, and support she temporarily needed – to sustain the rest of her life, independently.
One of the major issues confronting military homelessness is the very presence of confusion or assumption, that civilian community services and agencies ‘believe’: that the veteran’s V.A. benefits are all is needed. Often as in Ashley’s case, the disability, or even retirement income, health benefits, commissary, and other support is not adequate. It is also based on years of service, rank, and condition of discharge Honorable, Other than Honorable, Dishonorable) not always ‘automatic’ and fall short of the cost of living.
In return, Ashley helped us, allowing her situation and data, tracking initially, and two years beyond, of her case management. Her case and others were documented, data collected, measured results in all areas of life, mental/physical health wellness, housing, education, employment, financial, legal and other life challenges, results. The data was then organized and reported to the V.A. Medical Centers (Homeless Services) and other agencies and organizations, especially shelter care providers (emergency, transitional or permanent) to encourage them to adapt the 93% successful permanent housing solutions implementation of Action Planning for Prevention & Recovery (or other peer support programs) as a first orientation response, followed by the comprehensive continuum-of-care that I presented. To benefit not only our military community, but civilians as well.