PHILADELPHIA, PA – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), launched the 25 Cities Effort in March 2014. Philadelphia is one of 25 Cities identified by the Department of Veterans Affairs with exceptionally high concentrations of homeless Veterans and selected to intensify and integrate local efforts to end Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Philadelphia’s 25 Cities Effort has culminated in the Philly Vets Home 2015 Coalition. This Campaign is driven by collaboration between VA, HUD, the 25 Cities Offices, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and four non-profit organizations who have committed to end homelessness among Veterans in Philadelphia by Veterans Day 2015.
The Veterans Multi-Service Center (VMC) is one of four Philly Vets Home non-profit partners that receives technical assistance through the 25 Cities Effort to mobilize local planning efforts, strengthen partnerships, and create effective and coordinated systems to end Veteran homelessness.
“I was not aware of all the housing programs [the Veterans Multi-Service Center] had, until I finally got connected with one of them. And since then it’s been a lot better; a lot better. It’s one of the best things that can happen,” Thomas Green.
Before entering the Veterans Multi-Service Center’s (VMC) Shelter Plus Care Program, Thomas Green, an Army Veteran who served from 1976 to 1983, struggled with multiple episodes of homelessness spanning the past twenty years. Mr. Green bounced between various local shelters, including time spent at the Coatesville VA Domiciliary, before being housed through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF), only to be evicted after losing his income. With the assistance and ongoing support of his SSVF case manager, Mr. Green has found a stable home in VMC’s Shelter Plus Care Program. This program aids clients in maintaining housing stability by providing case management as well as other supportive services to address different health needs.
Collaboration between various VA programs has been integral to finding Mr. Green stable housing and case management services. As a previous participant in SSVF, a current client of Perimeter, a homeless day program funded by the VA Grant and Per Diem program, and having a community actively involved in the 25 Cities Effort, Green is a perfect example of how coordinated services produce positive results.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Green’s outlook on the future has changed for the better since being housed: “[Housing] has just changed me 150%; it changed my whole outlook,” said Mr. Green during one recent conversation. Mr. Green is now able to spend time focusing on his finances, health, and employment instead of where he will spend the night, or where he will find his next meal. “I can plan things now. I can see my family more. I don’t have to go around my family and worry about leaving at a certain time to get back to the shelter system. I don’t have to worry about the place giving out the food, I can go home and fix my own food. If I want to sit down and read the newspaper from back to front, which I like to do, I can do it.”
Housing provides freedom and stability; it provides a foundation off which other challenges can more easily be conquered. It is this belief that drives the sincere and passionate involvement in the Philadelphia 25 Cities Initiative and the Philly Vets Home Coalition.
Another Veteran who faced struggles similar to Mr. Green and exited homelessness with a renewed commitment to improve his life is Delvin Brinson. Brinson has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to Mr. Green, and many others.
Brinson, much like Green, enjoyed the structure and comradery he found while serving in the 2nd and 63rd Mechanized Division of the Army from 1979 to 1985. Mr. Brinson began experiencing homelessness beginning in 1998. Through his involvement in VMC transitional housing, Brinson participated in job training and computer classes and has now moved into permanent housing and found employment through the VMC as a Veteran Outreach Specialist. Today, Brinson is a key asset to the Outreach Team at VMC due to his skills in building relationships and trust with other homeless Veterans through their shared experiences.
Brinson explained stating: “Once they hear my story and they look at themselves… and see that I’ve done it and I’m working with this organization, trying to explain to them that [VMC] can help them, then they begin to build a little trust.”
Both Green and Brinson agree, trust is paramount for getting homeless Veterans connected to service organizations, like the Philly Vets Home partners. These non-profit organizations, and federal and local government agencies, are able to give Veterans the services they deserve, but Veterans must trust these services and the staff they interact with in order to reach out for help. The two also expressed the need to better inform homeless Veterans of the services available at individual organizations and through the Coalition more broadly.
The Philly Vets Home 2015 Coalition has placed approximately 1,100 Veterans into housing so far, an amazing achievement, but there is still a lot to accomplish, especially considering the goal of ending Veteran homelessness in Philadelphia by Veterans Day 2015.
Still, as the Coalition presses forward, it’s integral that the public and the broader community become a part of the mission. If the community comes together there will be even more good news stories to share, like those of Brinson and Green. Philly Vets Home partners believe that nobody who fought for this country should have to fight for housing, a job, or the healthcare that they need and deserve.