VA Maryland Health Care System
An Oasis for Homeless Veterans
"They followed me around," said Michael, a 54-year-old formerly homeless Army veteran who has long struggled with mental health issues. "Mostly, I'm here because they followed me everywhere, and they helped me," he said, smiling, referring to the VA Maryland Health Care System's homeless outreach team. Today, Michael is weeks away from moving into his own space and is happy to be on a healthier footing. When he was homeless, outreach social worker Brandan Pippens visited him every day at his spot at Hopkins Plaza, bringing him lunch, spending time with him, building trust, convincing him to come into the VA and check out available services. Michael's new digs sit within spitting distance from VA's new Community Resource & Referral Center (CRRC) at the Baltimore VA Annex where homeless veterans can escape from the desolation of the streets and seek assistance from an array of services designed to help them leave their lives on the street behind them.
The CRRC, a collaborative, multiagency, multidisciplinary program, provides veterans with a veritable one-stop shop. They can address basic needs such as showering, eating, and doing laundry, and they can access medical and mental health care treatment for a variety of issues. The center's walk-in clinic opens at 9 a.m. and thus, it isn't unusual to see veterans with luggage and multiple bags checking into the clinic.
The Saint Pio Foundation recently selected the VA Maryland Health Care System's Homeless Veterans Program and the CRRC for a two-part donation. Opera singer Luciano Lamonarca, who is also president and CEO of the Saint Pio Foundation, presented the first part of the donation on March 18—a check for $20,000— to Dr. Adam M. Robinson, Jr., director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. The second part of the donation will be presented later this spring and will consist of a portion of the proceeds from the foundation's 2nd Annual Saint Pio Award Ceremony.
"The VA Maryland Health Care System is committed to serving veterans when and how they need it. We consider homelessness a health care issue and the CRRC is one way we are tackling this issue," said Robinson, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. "We're grateful that the Saint Pio Foundation has recognized our efforts to serve homeless veterans and are joining as a new community partner."
The CRRC will strengthen and build on existing VA partnerships and develop new ones with community allies such as Maryland's Commitment to Veterans and Supportive Services for Veteran and Families (SSVF), to name a few.
"The launch of the CRRC is a tangible and concrete demonstration of our commitment to serving veterans. We're committed to increasing access to services to homeless veterans in a welcoming environment" says Anthony B. Gibson, the center's program coordinator. "This initiative offers veterans a one-stop-shop to combat homelessness and provide a strong hand up to get them on a healthier track."
Baltimore's CRRC is one of 29 centers that the Department of Veterans Affairs is strategically locating across the nation that are focused on providing all the necessary services to help veterans leave the streets behind them for good. The center's goal and mission includes providing rapid, comprehensive housing services focused on the chronically homeless, as well as to veterans struggling to maintain their current housing.
"Veterans will be able to drop in and speak to outreach social workers and peer support specialists, who are veterans that have been able to overcome similar issues," said Gibson.
The CRRC includes a complete kitchen, laundry and shower facilities, a food pantry, a clothing closet, and a play area for children, as well as a host of other community services and collaborations with other federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Staffed by an array of VA social workers, case managers, nurse practitioners, and mental health providers, the CRRC specializes in providing homeless veterans with financial planning and assistance, vocational training, employment services, primary and mental health care, treatment for substance abuse disorders, and placement in safe and stable housing.
"The CRRC is the place where veterans experiencing homelessness can come and get the help they need from people who understand what they've been through and how their experience while serving our country may have impacted their ability to cope in civilian life," Gibson said.
Thanks to the generous support of the Saint Pio Foundation, homeless veterans in Maryland will receive transportation assistance, meals, clothing, and household supplies to get them started in their new apartments. Their contribution will also be used to fund the clothing room, the kitchen and the laundry facility at the CRRC.
The Saint Pio Foundation's mission is to continue the charitable works performed by the Italian-born Capuchin Monk, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, who especially focused on the sick and included founding a hospital called the Home for Relief of Suffering, currently owned by the Holy See. At its 2nd annual award ceremony, which is being held on May 27, 2016, at the Naval Heritage Center in Washington, DC, Actor Gary Sinise, known for his support of various veterans' organizations, and the Honorable Robert "Jim" Nicholson, former U.S. Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, will be honored with Saint Pio Awards. Other guests of honor include Actors Joe Mantegna and Tony Lo Bianco; the Honorable Robert Astorino, Westchester County Executive (NY); His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington; and His Excellency Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See to the United Nations and to the Organization of American States. For more information about the 2nd Annual Saint Pio Award Ceremony on May 27, visit http://www.saintpiofoundation.org/event/2ndsaintpioawardceremony/.