VA Homeless Program Makes Difference After Harvey - Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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VA Homeless Program Makes Difference After Harvey

Houston VA Homeless Program Makes a Difference After Hurricane Harvey

Houston VA Homeless Program Makes a Difference After Hurricane Harvey

By Shannon Arledge
Friday, September 8, 2017
Hurricane Harvey has displaced thousands of Houstonians.  As a large percentage struggle to put their homes in order, another group is placed in even more need.

Living homeless is a situation many people nationwide experience daily. However, Houston Veterans have a place to turn at the George R. Brown (GRB) Convention Center and NRG Stadium, the two ‘mega-shelters’ in the Houston area for displaced flood victims where VA is also stationed to assist Veterans.  According to Anthony Morris, Director of the Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC), he is seeing a lot of familiar faces at the GRB Center.  These are the faces of Veterans his office has assisted over previous years.

Over 250 homeless and displaced Veterans recovering from the record breaking Houston flood have been seen by MEDVAMC staff so far. “We are seeing Veterans who have homes, but are displaced because of the flood, and we are seeing Veterans who were impacted, but were already homeless,” said Morris.  The goal is to identify every Veteran in the mega-shelter so that VA can work closely with existing community partners and disaster relief agencies to meet immediate needs and transition individuals to appropriate housing alternatives.   Signs are posted throughout the shelters to direct Veterans to VA staff.  As there are many health and social service resources at the Mega-shelters, it is important to ensure that eligible Veterans stay linked to their existing integrated care system.

One of the greatest immediate needs, so Veterans do not become ill, is to obtain refills of medications, both for mental health and medical conditions. Another Veteran received a replacement pair of glasses, which were lost when he fled flooding waters. Staff inform Veterans of existing appointments, let mental health and other clinicians know of the Veteran’s status, offer transportation while they are sheltered, and order medical equipment such as canes, walkers, CPAP machines, and glucose monitors. Representatives from Vet Centers and Veterans Benefits Administration work at adjacent tables to coordinate services. Many Veterans and their families may not be aware of resources available to them.

According to U.S. Army Veteran William Smith, Jr., he moved to Houston following Hurricane Katrina. He plans to work more closely with the MEDVAMC staff to meet his healthcare needs and correct his homeless position.  “They are fantastic here. The people here have a friendly spirit and care about the Soldier,” he said. “I just need to get back on my feet. These guys are fantastic. They are here to take care of our needs, and they show an interest in my life. The storm has affected a lot of us, but not many people here, are here to help Veterans, like this group.”

One of VA’s top priorities is to end Veteran Homelessness, and sometimes, during tragedy, opportunities to change a life present themselves.  A number of Veterans seen at the shelters were never part of the VA healthcare system and are now enrolled and will be receiving help.  Our goal is to ensure that no Veteran is left behind and each has a sense of hope that their situation will improve.

The MEDVAMC program staff, including social work, mental health, and primary care clinicians, provide services daily, 7 days a week, rotating shifts (Monday - Friday from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.).

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