Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Program offers helping hand
Individuals who find themselves homeless face a multitude of challenges when attempting to get back on their feet. Some of them are struggling with substance abuse or mental illness, some are unable to meet their basic daily needs like finding food or a safe place to shower, and most, especially those in the Veteran population, are often too proud to ask for help. Add to that the complexities of living in a small, rural community with limited humanitarian resources, like the one in Hinesville, Georgia, and you've got a recipe for real struggle.
Thankfully, dedicated VA social workers and mental health professionals at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center's Hinesville VA Outpatient Clinic have committed themselves to seeking out this underserved population of homeless Veterans and connecting them with the services they need to get back on the right track.
"We live in and serve such a small community and that presents a lot of difficulties when it comes to helping these Veterans," said Marco Rotting, social worker with Hinesville's Homeless Program. "We have done a significant amount of legwork to create the resources that are not readily available here but we still come against road blocks."
The VA supports Veterans by subsidizing housing, both temporarily and in permanent placements, through the grand per diem program and Department of Housing and Urban Development - VA Supportive Housing program respectively. This year the Hinesville Homeless Program was issued 51 HUD-VASH vouchers and is set to receive 14 more due to demand, bringing the total to 65. These vouchers equate to secure, affordable and permanent housing for homeless Veterans.
Rotting and his teammate La Shan Saunders, another social worker in the program, have developed relationships with local Veterans Service Organizations and other community partners to fill in the gaps for Veterans while they wait to be folded in to VA services.
"All programs that a Veteran would be eligible for in our VAMC, such as substance abuse treatment, grant per diem, and fiduciary, are available to our Veterans here in Hinesville if they need them," said Saunders. "We have the ability to enter a consult and link that Veteran to these services. We also provide case management services to the Veterans on our caseloads and we can assist them with budgeting, VA claims information, and more."
According to Rotting, the success of the program, however, can often be a double-edged sword.
"We were stymied here for a while Hinesville but our outreach efforts have really caused our program to explode," said Rotting. "Each day I run the gamut of emotions. I feel ecstatic. I feel enraged. I feel heartbroken. I'm thrilled for those Veterans that we are able to help, but as much good as we are doing, it's difficult because we keep finding more and more homeless Veterans. We are all dedicated to helping as many of them as possible but sometimes the resources are lacking in this area."
Saunders agrees. "Our program participants are telling their fellow Veterans about the program," she said. "We want people to know that these services are in place to help all Veterans, even if they don't qualify for HUD-VASH. We work hard to link Veterans to resources and services they do qualify for in order to help them get housing. This includes referrals to community providers."
The Hinesville Homeless Program partners with the City of Hinesville Homeless Prevention Program, the United Way, Disabled American Veterans, National Veterans Service Fund, the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, the Liberty County Homeless Coalition and others to attempt to meet the needs of the homeless Veteran community in Hinesville and its surrounding areas.
"We are here to help," said Rotting. "We need homeless Veterans to hear about our program walk through our doors. That's the first step."
For more information on the Hinesville Homeless Program or to connect a Veteran with these services, please call 912-408-2990 or 912-408-2918.