A film crew was on the Biloxi VA Medical Center campus filming Aug. 8 for a two-minute piece on ending Veteran homelessness that will air on the History Channel on Veterans Day.
The New-York based crew filmed the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Homeless Program, interviewing Veterans and community partners.
The upcoming piece is part of a larger series in which five communities across the country will be highlighted for ending Veteran homelessness. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is the only one being featured for sustaining functional zero among homeless Veterans for four straight years. Functional zero is reached when the number of homeless Veterans, whether sheltered or unsheltered, is no greater than the monthly housing placement rate for Veterans.
Johnny Owens is an Air Force Vietnam Veteran who was in the Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, or HUD-VASH, for approximately five years. The filmmakers interviewed and filmed him in his apartment and riding the Biloxi VA campus shuttle to his medical appointments. He receives VA medical and mental health care and said he enjoys the HUD-VASH socialization group, where Veterans can meet up and go to museums or baseball games together. One of Owens’ goals in HUD-VASH was to reconnect with family, which he did.
Persian Gulf War Navy Veteran Carla Jones has been in the HUD-VASH program for approximately eight months. She works in housekeeping as part of the compensated work therapy program. Jones participates in the mental health program, something she found difficult while homeless.
Shaun Anderson, a Persian Gulf War Army Veteran, lived in a tent with his wife and 5-year-old twin boys. He used a HUD-VASH voucher to find a home. He uses VA mental health services and said he finds support from his HUD-VASH peer support specialist. His wife plans to home-school the boys because they now have a home.
Keys to success
“The consensus is that Biloxi VA is doing great,” Mary Simmons, executive director and CEO of Open Doors Continuum of Care, said. “They are out there, at the soup kitchens, in the community providing outreach. As soon as we know of a homeless Veteran, a VA employee is helping with housing and resources. No Veteran should be homeless around here who wants housing. The VA has made sure of that.”
The Gulf Coast program uses a combination of cohesiveness, strong partnerships and open communication within the community of care, along with Supportive Services for Veterans and Families.
The piece, shot by Friendly Films, was for Community Solutions/Built for Zero, Quicken Loans and the History Channel.
Jodie Picciano-Swanson, LCSW, ACSW, is the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Homeless Program manager. She is the widow of a U.S. Army Veteran and 9/11 first responder.