In March 2014, VA partnered with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), to launch the 25 Cities Effort, a program designed to intensify and integrate efforts and resources to end Veteran homelessness in cities identified with high homeless Veteran populations. Philadelphia is one of those 25 Cities.
The Veterans Multi-Service Center 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,” said Thomas Green.
Before entering the Veterans Multi-Service Center’s Shelter Plus Care Program, Green, an Army Veteran who served from 1976 to 1983, had struggled with multiple episodes of homelessness spanning the past 20 years.
He bounced between various local shelters, including time spent at the Coatesville VA Domiciliary, before being housed through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, only to be evicted after losing his income.
With the assistance and ongoing support of his SSVF case manager, Green found a stable home in the Veterans Multi-Service Center 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 Green and Veterans like him 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, Thomas Green’s outlook on the future has changed for the better since being housed: “[Housing] has just changed me 150 percent; it changed my whole outlook,” he said.
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 from 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 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 Green and many others.
Brinson, much like Green, enjoyed the structure and camaraderie he found while serving in the 2nd and 63rd Mechanized Division of the Army from 1979 to 1985.
Brinson began experiencing homelessness beginning in 1998. Through his involvement in the Veterans Multi-Service Center’s transitional housing program, he participated in job training and computer classes and has now moved into permanent housing and found employment through the program as a Veteran Outreach Specialist.
Today, Brinson is a key asset to the center’s outreach team due to his skill 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 [we] can help them, then they begin to build a little trust.”
Both Green and Brinson agree that 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 Veterans’ 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.
Debby Derricks is the director of development for the Veterans Multi-Service Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Debby serves the organization in a dual capacity by managing communications and development efforts, specifically, event management and corporate partnerships. Her past work includes political campaign management, communications consulting and strategic marketing. She holds a BA in Political Science and Psychology from New York University and a Certificate in Politics from the University of Pennsylvania.