Salisbury VAMC provides services for homeless veterans
By Michael Maddox
W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center Public Affairs
There are many paths that can lead someone to homelessness, but the Salisbury VA Medical Center is providing help to Veterans who have gone down one of those paths.
Last year, the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program at the Salisbury VAMC served more than 4,200 Veterans and their family members with issues of homelessness or preventing them from becoming homeless.
Jennifer Herb, director of the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program, said they connect with veterans in need in several ways.
“The majority of the veterans that we work with are enrolled in other programs here. Part of the supportive services that VA provides includes social workers, peer support specialists and registered nurses assisting the veterans in making sure they are getting to their appointments or that they are getting the medical or mental health treatment that they need,” she said.
Herb said she has also seen an increase in outreach during the past five years that she’s been the program director.
“They don’t always have transportation, so it’s important for the socials workers and VA staff to be out in the community meeting the veterans where they are at – and that may very well be in a tent city, on the streets or under a bridge. We find it very effective,” she said. “We have five outreach social workers who go out to the day shelters and overnight shelters throughout the week.”
“We have peer support specialists on staff, and one in particular does street outreach in Charlotte. He’s been able to work with veterans and build that trust and rapport where we haven’t been able to before,” added Herb.
Educating homeless veterans about programs and services available to them in their communities plays a large role in helping those in need, said Herb.
“The resources are out there and we have many services to offer the veterans,” she said. “We’ve been building stronger networks with the community so we can identify the veterans and link them up with services as quickly as possible.”
“We also have relationships with the local communities where they have clothing closets and those types of resources,” she added. “On site, we try to keep some shoes and clothes that are donated, but we can’t store a lot due to space, so it’s not always what a particular veteran needs.”
Herb said her team does everything possible to aid all veterans in need.
“I’ve had a veteran in a very dire situation. He was living in the woods and refused to go to a shelter,” she said. “He had a chronic foot condition, and if he didn’t get something dry to put on his feet like a good pair of boots, it wouldn’t have improved. I went to a local store and bought him a pair of boots.”
“Fortunately, we have agencies and individuals who donate funds that we’re able to use for homeless veterans’ needs,” Herb added.
Another aspect to the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program is prevention by helping those in need before they become homeless.
Another useful tool in helping homeless veterans has been the Department of Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, said Herb.
HUD-VASH is a joint effort between HUD and VA to move veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing. HUD provides housing assistance through its Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) that allows homeless veterans to rent privately owned housing. VA offers eligible homeless veterans clinical and supportive services through its health care system.
Herb said this program has seen tremendous growth since she been associated with it, going from 140 vouchers in 2010 to more than 600 this year.
Herb urges any veteran that is in danger of becoming homeless or is homeless to contact the Help for Homeless Veterans hotline at 877-4AID-VET or 877-424-3838.
“We have the national homeless call center so veterans can call in 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and be routed to the VA facility in their local area. Then an outreach social worker calls them back within 24 hours to see how they can assist,” she said.
Herb said her team is dedicated to continuing their work and helping every veteran they can.
“I think what we’re doing is working – it’s just a matter of continuing to identify those veterans, building a strong network with the community providers, and to link them up with services within the VA as quickly as possible,” she said. “It lets veterans know that we care – the VA is here for them. We care about our veterans and we want the best for them.”
The Salisbury VA Medical Center Homeless Veterans Program is located in Building 11 and provides services from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Homeless veterans can be referred to the program whether they are enrolled or not, and they will see a homeless outreach worker or social worker. Veterans do not need an appointment to see a program specialist.
For more information about the Salisbury VA Medical Center, visit http://www.salisbury.va.gov/.
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