For Veterans transitioning out of homelessness, securing a job is an important step to becoming and remaining stably housed. Bridgetta Blockmon, the community employment coordinator for the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina, has made it her mission to see that the Veterans in her area are able to find long-term employment.
In June, Bridgetta, and other members of the Charleston VAMC Homeless Team, received the Golden Pineapple Award from the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for their innovative partnerships with local businesses, which have led to Veteran job placements throughout the area’s hospitality and tourism industry.
“It started out as a goal of mine to work with employers to overcome some of the barriers that our Veterans are facing when they try to get jobs in the community,” said Bridgetta. “For example, researching or applying for jobs online, they don’t always have that ability.”
Bridgetta’s passion and determination to overcome these barriers for Veterans led her to Louis Yuhasz, a recruiter for the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association. Bridgetta and Louis discussed the difficulties faced by Veterans transitioning out of homelessness when trying to secure employment, including limited access to the internet. One of these discussions sparked an idea — that Bridgetta could leverage her partnerships with local Charleston employers and ask them to bring paper applications to VA for Veterans to fill out on the spot.
Bridgetta and Louis worked together to bring her idea to life, and in February 2018, they launched “Turnaround Tuesdays.” Every Tuesday, Louis comes to the VA medical center from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and meets with Veterans who are interested in working in the hospitality and tourism industry. Bridgetta encourages the Veterans to bring their resume, and Louis sits down with each of them individually to review their skills and qualifications. On average, three or four Veterans fill out applications every week.
Over the past six months, Bridgetta and Louis have placed 17 Veterans transitioning out of homelessness in stable jobs.
“When I go out into the community, one of my goals is to help Veterans help themselves,” said Bridgetta. She wants them to have more than a job that will give them a paycheck — she wants to see them in positions that provide stability.
She recently helped a Veteran find just such a position.
After relocating from Detroit to live with a friend in Charleston, one Veteran found herself homeless. She went to the VA medical center to meet with her Grant and Per Diem team in an effort to find housing. A couple of days later, the Veteran was back — crying in the hallway. Bridgetta brought her into her office and asked what her immediate needs were.
She wanted a job.
This Veteran was used to taking care of herself and wanted to get back on her feet. She gave Bridgetta her resume, which Bridgetta shared with Louis. Within days, Louis had interviewed the Veteran and connected her with a job as a switchboard operator for a hotel in Charleston.
The tourism industry is booming in Charleston and demand for employees is high. Bridgetta and Louis recognized this need and created a partnership that benefits both Veterans and Charleston’s hospitality and tourism industry. Thanks to this partnership, Veterans transitioning out of homelessness are finding stable employment, and the hotels and restaurants of Charleston are finding competent and motivated employees.
For other VA staff, Bridgetta offers this advice, “Get to know your Veterans. In my experience, I have found that you can do better by them if you listen to them because they all have a story.”
If you want to assist Veterans in securing employment, housing, or move-in essentials, follow in Bridgetta’s footsteps and get to know your community. There may be businesses or organizations willing to assist and potentially partner with VA to help their local Veterans.
And if your business or organization has employment vacancies to fill, learn how you can hire Veterans who are exiting homelessness by visiting www.va.gov/homeless/stakeholders.asp.
- Visit VA’s website to learn about employment support 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).