Formerly Homeless Veteran
Now Helps Peers
When Marvin Page got out of the military after serving 15 years in the Air Force, he battled depression. He became addicted to drugs and found himself on the streets with thoughts of suicide. Page spent more than a year homeless, just trying to survive.
Today, the 64-year-old has turned his life around. He's off the streets and spends his days at work, earning an income. But homelessness remains a part of his daily routine. That's because he works at the Community Resource & Referral Center (CRRC) with fellow Veterans who are facing homelessness and the same struggles he faced not too long ago.
The CRRC is the same place where Page found the help he needed to get off the streets. The CRRC opened a little more than a year ago in the Baltimore VA Annex.
"Our services are geared toward the homeless population and those at risk of homelessness," explains Anthony Gibson, the coordinator of the CRRC.
Staffed with outreach social workers, peer support specialists, case managers, nurse practitioners, and mental health specialists, the CRRC provides help with financial planning and assistance, vocational training, employment services, primary health care, mental health care, treatment for substance abuse, and placement in safe and stable housing.
"In short, we can give you the support you need to get back on your feet," Gibson says, noting that if a Veteran or an individual is not eligible to receive care from the VA, the staff can provide referrals to community partners who can help.
"There were quite a few social workers and physicians who took me under their wing," Page recalls of his first encounters at the CRRC. "I was overwhelmed with the help." He found he was able to manage his depression with medication and by joining a therapy group.
Once he was feeling better, he enrolled in VA Maryland's Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program. CWT assists Veterans with getting back to the routine of employment and earning a paycheck. Page works at the front desk at the CRRC, answering telephones, coordinating the meal voucher program, and offering a friendly greeting to Veterans coming in for help.
"I like the idea of Veterans helping Veterans," Page says. "I go out of my way to make sure they receive the treatment that I myself would want."
"Marvin's the first person Veterans encounter when they come to the CRRC," Gibson adds. "So he serves a very important role as the face of the program."
Page has some words of advice for any Veterans who are facing homelessness or struggling: "Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't just survive," he advises. "Get help so you can really live."
If you know any Veterans facing homelessness,
please call for help.
|Homeless Veteran Rates Drop,
Efforts to End Veteran Homelessness Remain Strong
The CRRC is just one of the many tools the VA Maryland Health Care System's Homeless Veterans Program uses to fight Veteran homelessness. The program follows the VA's national model of "Housing First."
"This means rapidly identifying who needs help and then rapidly placing them in homes," explains Chris Buser, chief of Social Work Service for the VA Maryland Health System. "Then we can begin to address their health and the issues that may have led to them becoming homeless in the first place-and may continue to be barriers-like mental health issues, drug use, and lack of employment."
That approach is paying off, considering that there is a 25 percent dip in the number of homeless Veterans in Maryland compared to last year. A count of 568 homeless Veterans in 2015 versus 427 in 2016 means 141 fewer Veterans were living on the streets.
The numbers come from a "Point in Time" count conducted by VA and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) representatives over the course of two nights each January. The team hits the streets, visiting shelters and encampments, searching for Veterans among the homeless.
Buser acknowledges the count isn't static, and it relies on self-reporting, so there could be some variances. But overall, it's a valid way for VA Maryland and its community partners to assess the impact of their work and guide future efforts.
"It's a step in the right direction, but we must remain vigilant," Buser says. "We work hard to help get Veterans off of the streets, but at any given time, there could be more who are on the verge of becoming homeless. For instance, a Veteran could be sleeping on a buddy's couch the night of the Point in Time count, and be out on the streets the following night."
"Each Veteran is unique, so having multiple providers and a variety of programs helps us provide individualized care to match the need of each Veteran," he adds. "You need a combination of resources, staff and community partnerships. I think we've landed on a good formula and we have the right staff in place."