Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Ending Homelessness Together
President Barack Obama declared ending homelessness among Veterans among the country’s most important priorities in 2010.
Over the last six years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched and executed a comprehensive, outcome-driven strategy to accomplish the President’s goal. The strategy shifted VAs focus from temporary, shelter-based services to employment, and permanent housing. It also incorporated prevention of homelessness.
At the end of September 2015, according to VA, nearly 230,000 homeless Veterans and their families had found permanent housing across the nation.
More locally, in December 2015, the mayor of Philadelphia, Pa., Michael Nutter, announced an effective end to homelessness among Veterans in the city had been reached. This means – at that time – every Veteran in Philadelphia, Pa. had permanent housing, a plan to permanent housing, or access to permanent housing. The city and federal officials identified 15 Veterans who chose to remain homeless, and will continue to outreach to, and support them.
Similar announcements have been made in New Orleans, La.; Houston, Texas; Phoenix, Ariz.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Connecticut.
Partnerships have been critical to each community’s effort and success.
In the Coatesville VA Medical Center’s main service areas – Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties – VA homeless outreach and service, and case workers teamed with local Housing Authorities, county government and non-profits – including the Veterans Multi-Service Center and the Fresh Start Foundation – to identify and permanently house every homeless Veteran in this area.
“When we work as a team, and share information, we know who these men and women are,” said Kelly Tuturice, a Coatesville VA Medical Center social worker who has been involved with local team efforts since the beginning. “We know all of the resources available to them, and can quickly get them connected to housing, on an individual basis.”
Over the years, the teams’ strategies have been varied, grassroots and effective. One strategy has been referred to as the “100 day campaign”. Since 2014, each county team has set and publicized goals to permanently house a certain number of Veterans in a certain amount of days, which have varied by county.
In Chester County, there have been four such completed campaigns, each with a goal of housing at least 100, and as a result, 437 Veterans have found permanent housing this way since February 2014.
It works this way. The Chester County group identifies a Veteran who is literally homeless – living in a shelter, on the street or out of a car, as examples – or is engaged in transitional residential rehabilitation treatment programs on the Coatesville VA Medical Center campus. Almost 300 beds are available here through VA, the Veterans Multi-Service Center, and Fresh Start Foundation. The overarching goal of these programs is for each Veteran to find permanent housing.
For many Veterans, particularly those living on the medical center campus, VA Work Restoration provides individual support in finding meaningful, permanent employment, while the Chester County group works toward setting the path to permanent housing, either through the Departments of Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program or with other or no financial assistance.
“It’s important to know that being homeless does not define you. It’s a situation,” said Maura “Mo” Gillen, an executive with the Veterans Multi-Service Center who works locally. “We are committed to assisting Veterans in achieving new, positive situations for themselves, and to our long-term mission of preventing homelessness, and ensuring that any future instances are rare, brief and non-recurring for the individual Veteran.”
There are other options for Veterans, too. Through a VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant, the Veterans Multi-Service Center offers supportive services to very low-income Veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing. Their aim is to rapidly rehouse homeless Veterans, and to prevent homelessness among those Veterans who are at imminent risk.
“The effort is really about the individual, and the responsibility and credit belongs to him or her. We are here just to help the Veteran live his or her best, most rewarding life.” said Tuturice.
And that is just what is happening for many. Stephen Zurawsky, a Veteran who overcame homelessness, and has found success in his VA job and own residence says it simply, “I have a nice life.”
Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point in Time Count takes place in January. During the 2015 count, 0 Veterans were identified as homeless and “living on the street” in Chester County, and 299 Veterans were identified as homeless, but with temporary shelter, residing in local shelters or at the Coatesville VA Medical Center. The 2016 Point in Time Count is scheduled for January 27-28.
The Coatesville VA Medical Center – alongside local county-based housing authorities – has been operating the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program since 2008. VA clinicians administer HUD “Housing Choice” Section 8 vouchers to supplement rent costs for eligible homeless Veterans for use in Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. Participating Veterans receive VA case management services to support stability and recovery from physical and mental health, substance use, and functional concerns contributing to or resulting from homelessness. Currently, there are 444 vouchers distributable by the Coatesville VA Medical Center to homeless Veterans, with HUD having awarded an additional 75 vouchers in April 2015. Additionally, Mission First Housing Group broke ground in the renovation of historic Whitehall Inn, located in Spring City, Pa. in December. The inn will create permanent housing options for 50 Veterans, many through the HUD-VASH program.