The goal is to eliminate Veteran homelessness – nationally – by 2015. It is a big goal, because it is that important. Veterans do not belong on the streets. So, we are trying a new approach to help more Veterans.
“Between VA and non-VA transitional residential programs, there are hundreds of beds for homeless Veterans on Coatesville VA Medical Center’s campus,” said Medical Center Director, Gary W. Devansky, “Social workers search the community for homeless Veterans every day, and we collaborate with community agencies regularly. We are pleased to add another program to our services for homeless Veterans, it’s called Housing First.”
Through Housing First – which is a core strategy that the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) is using to end homelessness in America – homeless persons with substance use or mental health issues search for housing, all the while receiving supportive and treatment services. The emphasis is on housing. After housing is obtained, the focus is on treatment. In a traditional housing ready model, patients receive residential treatment for a significant period of time, and then housing.
Here are the basics as they pertain to Coatesville VA Medical Center. Homeless Veterans stay in a VA domiciliary for a short time and save competitive wages earned through a Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) position. With social work case management support, he or she soon moves on to community employment and housing, leaving open domiciliary beds for more Veterans.
Housing is not concentrated in any one geographic area. Opportunities are plentiful throughout Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. VA social workers have been helping Veterans secure community housing for many years, so this part is already working well. In fact, through the Departments of Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program – which supplements selected formerly homeless Veterans’ rent payments – the need for VA homeless domiciliary beds has decreased.
“We began implementing the Housing First program in August, and Veterans who are participating are moving forward in recovery,” said Chief of Staff James Tischler, MD, “The VA social work case management services are key to that success. Each Veteran receives case management services as long as he or she needs it.”
Housing First is based on patient choice and individualized treatment. It is a proven method for ending chronic homelessness individuals. Further, the flagship Pathways Housing First program, which began in 1992, is listed in the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – an arm of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, the method is applicable in the chronically mentally ill population. Click here to read the report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This program will evolve with the promise of housing for Veterans at its heart.