Homeless Stand Down - Northport VA Medical Center
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Northport VA Medical Center

 

Homeless Stand Down

From left, Robin Bloom and Suzanne Sullivan, registered dieticians, and Allison Alger, dietetic technician student, serve up healthy food and cooking tips to homeless veterans at the Northport VAMC Stand Down April 17.

From left, Robin Bloom and Suzanne Sullivan, registered dieticians, and Allison Alger, dietetic technician student, serve up healthy food and cooking tips to homeless veterans at the Northport VAMC Stand Down April 17.

By Todd Goodman
Tuesday, April 21, 2015

More than 200 veterans and 70 organizations packed the Northport VAMC Gymnasium April 17 to attend Stand Down, a program to fight veteran homelessness.

Fold-out tables packed with merchandise and information lined the gym floor, as veteran upon veteran walked past. Some accepted care packages filled with toiletry items, while others took housing information and educational pamphlets. Vendors ranged from suicide prevention to vocational rehabilitation, women’s clinic to housing options. A makeshift barber shop off in the corner gave free haircuts to participating vets.

“The purpose of these events is to open doors,” said Philip Moschitta, VAMC director. “We’re trying to provide one-stop support for our veterans.” 

For one homeless veteran who shall be referred to as Jim, there is no doubting Stand Down’s potential.

“If veterans use half of the information they find coming to these places, their lives will change dramatically like mine did,” said Jim. There’s so much help for vets on Long Island it’s unbelievable.”

Jim, a 10-year Air Force veteran, was homeless. He’d been through a lot in the service and was angry, unable to adjust back to civilian life. He began using drugs, which cost him everything, including his family. He was living upstate, moving around between family and friends, even living in an old hunting cabin. He was isolated and angry, willing to fight anyone at the drop of a hat. These feelings only fueled his desire to use more drugs. 

It took Jim three failed attempts at sobriety before finding success at Northport. The longer he remains clean, the easier it becomes, he said. But the thought never goes away.

“I didn’t know how to handle life,” he said. “I was always a loner. I thought no one was like me, but I got to Long Island and found myself among my own kind.”

Jim made it through “the program” and went to United Veterans Beacon House, which shelters 200 homeless vets nightly in 26 shelters. He has listened, discovered, and used the information available to turn his life around. He works in vocational rehab and receives assistance through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive Housing to rent a home in Medford.

U.S. Army Veteran Sean Fennessey, a case manager with Beacon House, said HUD-VASH participants must pay 30% of whatever income they make toward housing costs. There is no set timetable for housing a veteran. It all depends on their health and housing needs. They may remain in the shelters, being shuttled to and from appointments, until they regain health or make a recovery.

“You have to focus on one person at a time,” said Fennessey. “If you can help one person, it’s a success. And it feels really good when you have a success story. But getting them into treatment for PTSD or substance abuse is just as rewarding as finding them permanent housing.”

Fennessey attended Stand Down to see what other options are available to veterans. Perusing the vendors, he made legal connections, which he will use to help his veterans with suspended licenses. If he can get veterans driving, perhaps that will lead to employment, which can lead to other positive changes. “You try to help them present themselves as best they can,” he said.  

The idea of paying it forward comes to mind.

“What I want to do is what I’m doing right now,” Jim said. “I want to show veterans how to use this program to maintain sobriety and find a better life than they are living right now. Life is work, play, and home life. It’s a balance. And these agencies and programs help you find that balance.”

For more information contact Greg Curran, homeless program manager, at 261-4400, ext. 2204.

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