Every Friday from 8 a.m. to noon, a mobile career center is parked at the Fort McPherson campus of the Atlanta VA Medical Center. These wheelchair-accessible RVs offer free vocational and employment services to formerly homeless local Veterans, transforming the parking lot into a community career fair.
“Veterans who have recently exited homelessness often have limited access to basic resources like the internet, computers, and job application and basic computer skills training,” said Tracy Roberts, the community employment coordinator (CEC) at the Atlanta VAMC. “A lack of access to these resources can be a huge obstacle to finding employment.”
So, when Roberts saw a mobile career center during a tour of Cobb County’s Workforce Development Career Center, she immediately asked Alisa Jackson, the center manager, if the mobile center could add the Health Care for Homeless Veterans clinic at the VA Fort McPherson campus to their regular schedule.
The WorkSource Cobb Mobile Career Center has been visiting Fort McPherson for more than 15 months.
Grassroots collaboration, such as this project between VA and local workforce agencies, is helping more Veterans exiting homelessness find stable employment, according to Dr. Carma Heitzmann, director of VA’s Homeless Veteran Community Employment Services (HVCES). And that’s important: employment is critical to reintegrating formerly homeless Veterans into the community and to providing them with the resources they need to remain permanently housed.
Through HVCES, VA has deployed more than 150 coordinators across the country to collaborate with local businesses to make it easier to find, interview and hire job-ready Veterans exiting homelessness. These partnerships provide VA with an understanding of the local job market, which allow the coordinators to tailor strategies to better serve local Veterans with multiple barriers to employment. This holistic approach has contributed to a nearly 50 percent decrease in Veteran homelessness since 2010.
“Collaboration drives this initiative, and the CECs are behind the wheel,” said Heitzmann. “CECs build relationships with local employers, arrange and attend job fairs, set up mass interview sessions, work with Veterans to improve resumes and soft skills, and do so much more – all with the goal of generating more opportunities for Veterans exiting homelessness.”
This type of collaboration is why vans from multiple nearby workforce development agencies – including DeKalb County and Atlanta Regional Commission – now visit the Atlanta VAMC Fort McPherson campus on a regular basis. Together, they provide Veterans with an average of 12 computer stations, a printer, and a smart screen, along with technicians and vocational service providers. Once aboard, Veterans may:
- Search for competitive employment opportunities
- Develop resumes and cover and thank you letters
- Participate in mock interviews
- Meet with employment recruiters
- Receive basic computer skills training
- Learn about and access local services, including re-entry assistance
- Receive personalized pre-vocational and vocational assistance and services
“These mobile centers create a little community right here on campus and provide Veterans access to the resources they need to become professionally successful,” said Roberts. “Those resources are the same ones that career centers have the mission to reach out with through their mobile units, so having these vans on campus is a match made in heaven.”
While the Fort McPherson campus itself is accessible via Atlanta’s public transportation system, VA also runs a shuttle between the facility and the nearby metro rail station to make it easier for Veterans who depend on public transportation to visit the mobile career centers. Now, Veterans can combine regularly scheduled appointments to the VA medical center with visits to vans for employment support, providing resources to Veterans in a way – and at a location – that is highly accessible.
The events attract an average of 15 to 20 Veterans each week, and it’s not unusual to find Veterans waiting for a mobile career center to open its doors at 8 a.m., according to Roberts. Often the event spills over into the nearby medical building where participating employers conduct screenings, interviews and, in some cases, hire Veterans on the spot.
Roberts believes that these events are highly replicable at other VA facilities around the community: She recently began collaborating with Gateway, a local homeless shelter and Grant and Per Diem Program grantee, to assist them with securing van visits of their own.
To learn more about employment programs and resources for Veterans exiting homelessness, visit www.va.gov/homeless/HVCES. To find your local Workforce Development Agency, visit CareerOneStop. Refer Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless to their local VA Medical Center, where VA staff are ready to assist, or urge them to call 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
Baron Owes has been with VA since 2011 and serves as manager of the Compensated Work Therapy program in Atlanta. A native of Mobile, Alabama, Baron studied at Auburn University and Troy University. He worked with Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services for 10 years as well as with Easter Seals of Central Alabama as a Job Placement Specialist for two years.