Recognizing the efforts of those across VA to end Veterans homelessness, several facilities, employees and community providers are being highlighted for their work.
“VA’s strong community efforts on Veteran homelessness are being supported by the hard work, innovation and dedication of thousands of VA employees and civilian partners,” said VA Secretary David J. Shulkin. “Helping Veterans get housing is vital for them, but it also demonstrates clearly to the nation our enduring commitment to those who have served so well.”
The Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service for Homeless Veterans saluted top achievers in the following three categories: community providers, VA employees and VA organizations.
John Ratka is the executive director of the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center. He joined the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in February 1999, following a distinguished 26-year career in the United States Navy. Since his appointment in 2002, the agency has seen significant growth. The Veterans Northeast Outreach Center which started as a small store front operation serving walk in clients now owns or manages 195 units of affordable housing and provides more than 10,000 units of service per month to Veterans and their families. Under his leadership, and with a very dedicated staff, he established partnerships with the Bedford VA medical center, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans services officers and many local community agencies. These partnerships have been critical to providing high quality services to Veterans and their families and preventing and ending Veteran homelessness.
Family Endeavors, Inc. is a long-standing, national non-profit agency that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans and those struggling with mental illness and other significant disabilities. The mission of Family Endeavors is to provide comprehensive, effective, and innovative services that empower people to build better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. Family Endeavors serves more than 16,000 clients each year providing services that target homelessness, unemployment, child abuse, foster care, disabilities, childcare, education, disasters, independent living and counseling. Family Endeavors unifies families torn apart by poverty, unemployment or neglect providing real, practical solutions and a path to earned income. Families receive counseling, crisis intervention, case management, homeless prevention services, parent training, practical life skills, and vocational support, training and employment.
In August of 2014, Ivory N. Mathews was named the executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Greenville, South Carolina. Mathews has over 19 years affordable housing experience. Throughout her tenure as a housing professional, she has contributed to garnering over $100 million for the preservation and new construction of affordable housing. In her current role she oversees a $33 million annual budget and a housing portfolio of over 3,200 units (226 low rent public housing units, 286 Low Income Housing Tax Credit units, 2780 Housing Choice Vouchers to include 135 HUD-VASH vouchers). When Mathews came to Greenville, she faced major challenge. with the local HUD VASH Program. Mathews worked out a shared process of tracking referrals and lease ups as they built a strong community partnership in which they engaged a number of community agencies. Together they planned a landlord workshop to enhance relationships in the community and expand the housing stock in Greenville. The workshop was well held at the TD Convention Center with more than 200 people from the community in attendance. Also, other providers of services attended the workshop and provided information to persons in the audience. Mathews developed a manual that was provided to the attendees. Following the meeting, the team distributed copies across the VISN which was most helpful to staff at each HUD VASH program. They began to make some progress, but it was slow. Columbia provided additional structure and support to the HUD VASH Team which helped them improve.
Team AMVETS Department of California ensures that resources are available to the men and women who have served our great nation, and to enhance the mental, physical and social well-being of all Veterans in California. Team AMVETS Welcome Home Program was developed by Team AMVETS and VA in 2012. The VA HUD-VASH housing program assists California’s homeless Veterans by providing a voucher for permanent housing. Team AMVETS transforms the residence into a real home complete with furniture, household items, and appliances, thanks to donors and volunteers. Team AMVETS is continually developing programs to assist Homeless Veterans. Currently, Team AMVETS donates clothing for stand downs across the state, gives grants to homeless Veteran programs and is lobbying both Sacramento and Congress in support of homeless Veterans legislation.
Project Community Connections, Inc. provides housing options and collaborates to provide ancillary services that promote personal and economic self-sufficiency. Since 1999, Project Community Connections has successfully ended homelessness for thousands of Veterans, families with children and others in need of a place to call home. Project Community Connections has worked with Veterans since inception but took a more formal role in serving veterans in October 2012, when they began serving Veterans through the Supportive Services for Veterans Families Program. In 2014, Project Community Connections increased their role as a Veteran focused service provider after being awarded two Priority 1 grants. In 2016, Project Community Connections received referrals from over 92 homeless service providers in the Metro Atlanta area and served more than 1,300 people, connecting them to permanent housing options. Of the total, 641 households served Project Community Connections, over 60 percent were homeless Veteran households. During the 2016 calendar year, Project Community Connections placed over 286 Veteran households.
Virginia Veteran and Family Support (VVFS) specializes in closing service gaps and enhancing response systems for all Veterans in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Veteran and Family Support (formerly known as the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program) was established in 2008 in response to the growing need to improve and expand services to our nation’s Veterans and their family members coping with the impact of deployment, military service, post-traumatic stress, operational stress and/or traumatic brain injury. The program monitors and coordinates the delivery of behavioral health, rehabilitative, and supportive services for Virginia Veterans and their families. The Virginia Veteran and Family Support program works to ensure that Virginia Veterans do not slip through the cracks and that adequate and timely assessment, treatment, and support are available to promote resilience and recovery. Through an extensive network of federal, state and local partnerships, VVFS proudly serves Veterans of any era who are Virginia residents; members of the Virginia National Guard and Armed Forces Reserves not in active federal service; and family members of those Veterans and service members. Virginia Veteran and Family Support’s goal is to make it easier for Veterans and their families to find and get help. Core services include peer and family support with hands on assistance navigating supportive services. VVFS is also proud to serve our most vulnerable veterans including Veterans involved in the criminal justice system, incarcerated veterans and those experiencing homelessness.
Julie Irwin is the network homeless care line manager for VA’s New York /New Jersey Health Care Network. She is responsible for overseeing a full continuum of VA homeless programs including Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) contract residential care, grant per diem transitional housing, Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, and the Veterans Justice Outreach programs. Irwin has spent her social work career working with homeless Veterans. After receiving her masters in social work from the Columbia University School of Social Work, she started as a case manager and social security liaison in the HCHV outreach program at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center. She went on to coordinator positions for several VA homeless programs, including HCHV, the Homeless Women Veterans Program, and the collaborative initiative to help end chronic homelessness in conjunction with other federal partners and Project Renewal. Currently, Irwin leads the Veterans Integrated Services Network 2 homeless executive council and works with local homeless program leadership and community partners to develop, coordinate and effectively deliver services to homeless Veterans in the downstate New York and New Jersey areas. In addition, she currently co-chairs the New York City Continuum of Care Veterans Task Force that was established to coordinate local planning and efforts to end Veteran homelessness.
Michael Wehrer has worked at the Erie VA Medical Center since 2008 as the homeless care team supervisor. He has served two different details to VA’s Central Office and he is the Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) 4 point of contact for the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program. He has worked in a variety of medical, mental health and educational settings over his career. During his tenure at VA, his mission has been to improve care and to identify and overcome service barriers for our homeless Veterans. Understanding VA must be able to identify homeless Veterans in the community in order to eliminate homelessness; he developed a data sharing process between VA and HUD in 2014 which has been replicated across the United States. To further spread the knowledge of this process Wehrer authored a discussion paper, “Local Bi-directional Data Sharing Collaboration to End Veteran Homelessness: The Erie Model”, which was published by the National Academy of Medicine in 2016. In 2016, in response to a local and national backlog of unresolved requests for help by homeless Veterans, he collaborated with VISN partners to create an automated process to alert VA homeless staff of Veterans identified as being homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. As a result of this electronic notification system, the average number of days to respond to homeless Veterans and the number of Veterans awaiting a response has decreased significantly within the region to almost zero.
Kristen Weese has served as the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program manager at VA Western New York Healthcare System. Her responsibilities include supervision of all programs within VA homeless program continuum of care. For the last eight years, she has dedicated her career to the Health Care for Homeless, first serving as a Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) case manager before becoming program manager in 2013. At the request of the HUD field office, Weese has facilitated a number of workshops with various HUD-VASH teams and their public housing authority counterparts to assist in process improvement efforts. Her team first received national attention for their creative approach to improve the process of working closely with housing authorities to assist homeless and at-risk Veterans with securing permanent housing by gathering the required paperwork, orienting the Veteran, meeting the landlord and conducting an inspection of prospective housing units. Weese was awarded the “Unsung Hero” award by the Homeless Alliance of Western New York in 2015. In 2017, Weese was awarded the “Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business” award and a “Distinguished Government Service Award.”
Domiciliary Service administers eight programs for homeless Veterans at VA Palo Alto Health Care System across a 10-county area in northern California. To date, Domiciliary Services has reduced homelessness in its territory by 42 percent. The emergency and transitional housing programs administered by its staff continue to hit all performance and descriptive measures despite a notably challenging housing market. Its Veteran justice outreach program has been a catalyst to the creation of the eight Veteran treatment and its permanent supportive housing program has now admitted a Veteran to 100 percent of its 1,813 housing vouchers.To ensure continuous improvement and the highest quality outcomes, the Domiciliary Service has embarked on a multi-year process of implementing Lean — the set of “tools” that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste — popularized by the auto manufacturing industry and modified for the health care setting by many leading public and private hospital systems including the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. There have been multiple presentations by Domiciliary Service leaders at national forums, including the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans annual conference, the National Homeless Program Business Operations and Planning call and the National Community of Practices systems redesign.
The Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program consists of street outreach, assessments and case management as to diligently pursue, engage and connect homeless Veterans to health care services, benefits, transitional and permanent housing and community resources. New Orleans was the first city in the nation to declare an effective end to Veteran homelessness which is an example of the integrated team work within the program and the essential collaboration with community providers within the continuum of care. Since opening in October 2013, the New Orleans Community Resource and Referral Center has provided 70,000 Veteran encounters. The annual homeless stand down held at the new medical center in New Orleans in collaboration with community providers provided 273 Veterans with provided flu shots, mental health, primary care, dental, podiatry and other essential health and support services. The 2016 river flooding impacted 12 parishes in the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System’s catchment area. As a team, the homeless program staff readily responded and was able to serve approximately 300 Veterans and their families housed in disaster shelters with screening and linkage to appropriate VA and community services, including Grant and Per Diem, Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing and Supportive Services for Veteran Families programs.
The Albany Stratton VA Medical Center: Initially serving as a mechanism to contract with providers for community-based residential treatment for homeless Veterans, many Health Care for Homeless Veterans programs now serve as the hub for a myriad of housing and other services that provide VA with a way to reach and assist homeless Veterans by offering them entry to VA care. Outreach is the core of the program. The central goal is to reduce homelessness among Veterans by conducting outreach to those who are the most vulnerable and not currently receiving services and engaging them in treatment and rehabilitative programs. Another aspect is the Contract Residential Treatment program, which places Veterans with serious mental health diagnoses into quality, community-based, supportive housing. The Albany Stratton VA Medical Center’s team provides in 18 counties in Upstate New York. The diverse team, in addition to working in urban areas, has done exceptional outreach and achieved housing success in upstate New York rural areas. Regular outreach is conducted by peer support specialists to local shelters and food pantries. Technology is utilized in rural catchment areas to provide case management where Veterans live several hours from the nearest VA clinic.
How you can help end Veteran homelessness
- Visit VA’s website to learn about employment initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness.
- 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).
Anne Dunn currently serves as the acting executive director of VHA Homeless Programs and has been with the Department of Veterans Affairs for over 26 years. During that time, she has served in a number of clinical and administrative positions. Ms. Dunn holds a bachelor of science degree in nursing and a master of science degree in psychiatric and mental health nursing.