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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Homeless Veterans Receive Services at Houston Area Stand Down

November 30, 2007

HOUSTON - The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, in cooperation with the Task Force for Houston Area Homeless Veterans, the Coalition for the Homeless and the U.S. Veterans Initiative, recently hosted the 7th Houston Area Stand Down for homeless veterans in the Houston area.

“Stand Down” is military terminology referring to the brief period of time a soldier leaves an active combat area in order to rest and regain strength.  Stand Downs are one part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to provide services to homeless veterans.  

During this two day event held at Midtown Terrace Suites located at 4640 Main Street, 483 homeless veterans including 15 women received services from 44 community agencies such as Service of the Emergency Aid Resource Center for the Homeless, Harris County Hospital District, Savannah’s Beauty School, the Salvation Army and the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program. 

“It was the tireless efforts and dedication of over 100 volunteers and dedicated community agencies helping homeless veterans get back on their feet that made this event such a success,” said Azzie Watts, LCSW, Houston Area Stand Down chairperson.

Veterans enjoyed hot meals, showers, clean clothes, haircuts, and health screenings.  Over 100 veterans received information on Hepatitis C, 50 received flu vaccinations and 70 veterans received primary care.  VA and Social Security benefits counseling, legal aid, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment were also available.  Operation New Hope, an initiative of the VA Homeless Program which provides clothing and related items, provided veterans with blankets, boots, jackets, scarves, and personal hygiene kits.  Emergency shelter beds at The Salvation Army and Star of Hope were available, however, went unused.

While homelessness in the Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq (OIF) population has not yet become a perceptible problem, the Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) Program at the MEDVAMC is committed to assisting homeless veterans with chronic mental illnesses to reach their highest level of functioning. HCHV staff assists veterans with securing safe housing reflective of their abilities and preferences, as well as assistance with obtaining desired skill development services. Treatment goals for each veteran through HCHV are individualized and may include meeting their immediate basic needs of food and protective housing; stabilization of mental health problems including substance abuse treatment and sobriety maintenance; individual and group psychotherapy; evaluation for financial disability benefits; vocational assessment; gainful employment; and schooling or a training program.

Houston is one of 30 communities where the VA will take its substance abuse services directly to the area’s homeless. Under its HCHV Program, the MEDVAMC has hired an addiction therapist to work directly in homeless shelters, counseling veterans with substance abuse problems.

“This was the second Stand Down I volunteered for.  As an Army veteran and an employee at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, I am proud to assist other veterans who may need a hand up,” said Paula Newerls, who assisted with registration.”  

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