Charitable Service Trust grant helps VA provide assistance
Homeless veterans—you might not notice them right away. They look like anyone you might pass on the street. They are men and women of every age and race, some with obvious handicaps and others with disabilities you cannot see. The circumstances that have left them homeless are as varied as the individuals themselves.
Reginald Evans is one such veteran. The former Army infantryman served two tours in Vietnam then fell on hard times after being honorably discharged in 1974.
“I came home [from Vietnam] with some problems, and my wife ended up leaving me. I got depressed and turned to drugs and alcohol,” Evans explained. He has been in and out of Washington, D. C., homeless shelters for nearly 40 years. At 65, Evans belongs to a demographic many Americans sometimes forget.
According to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, there were 49,933 homeless veterans nationwide on a single cold January night last year, and it’s estimated that two times as many veterans are at risk of becoming homeless. At-risk veterans are those who are underemployed and need to increase their income in order to pay their rent.
“The past few years have been pretty rough around here. I don’t wish being homeless on anyone, especially in a place like D.C.,” said Evans.
More than 700 homeless veterans are estimated to live in the district, with many more in the surrounding counties. In a region where it’s common for winter temperatures to dip below freezing and into the single digits at times, the harsh environment only increases the need for provisions for these sometimes overlooked heroes.
This is what makes the DAV Charitable Service Trust such a vital part of serving veterans, especially at the local level.
Since being established in 1986 to meet the requirements of donors with special needs, the Trust has grown to fund and advance numerous initiatives outside the services normally offered to ill and injured veterans by the DAV National Organization. That mission led the Trust to recently award a $60,000 grant to the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center (DCVAMC) to support homeless and at-risk veterans like Evans through initiatives such as the 2015 Winterhaven Stand Down.
The annual event, described by DCVAMC officials as a one-stop shop, is a full day of free services aimed homeless and at-risk veterans to independence and improved health. Provided services include health screenings; housing and employment counseling; substance abuse and psychological services; dental exams; HIV testing; and free warm clothing, boots, shoes and hygiene kits. Attendees are also treated to a hot lunch and a haircut.
“These resources can greatly impact a veteran’s quality of life,” said Richard Marbes, Chairman of the DAV Charitable Service Trust. “Warm clothing, food and health care—these are basic needs, and we’re proud to help provide them for veterans struggling with homelessness.”
“Winterhaven allows veterans to come in, relax, get some food and get some other services they otherwise wouldn’t get in the streets,” said Stephanie Burns, DCVAMC’s Chief of Voluntary Services. She added that the event is made possible through donations from more than 70 local vendors, as well as the Trust, and is an integral part of the VA and DCVAMC’s comprehensive effort to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
“DAV has always been a true supporter for the initiative of solving homelessness among veterans,” said Burns. “We rely on the services and grants DAV provides because we can’t provide everything.”
Winterhaven Stand Down organizers remain optimistic about the future and efficacy of the event.
“Word got out among the homeless veteran community in and around the capital area about how much of a difference Winterhaven plays in these veterans’ lives,” said Kevin Morton, DCVAMC’s
Health Care for Homeless Veterans Coordinator. “I think that says we’ve got a good thing going here, but there’s always more that can be done to help these veterans,” he said.
Morton noted the Stand Down has seen a steady growth of about a hundred new veterans each year throughout the past five years. The trend can be attributed to event organizers expanding Winterhaven’s service offerings to reflect the needs of different demographics of veterans, such as younger veterans and women, who now make up 10 percent of Stand Down attendees.
“It shows that the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center is taking a proactive stance and making a positive impact in helping the VA achieve its goals,” Burns said.
“Supporting VA medical centers is a natural fit for DAV,” said Marbes. “DAV is dedicated to the service of our nation’s heroes, and events like Winterhaven at the VA medical center in D.C. serve to show that, even though some veterans may be down on their luck, DAV hasn’t forgotten about them or their sacrifices.”
“I may not have it all together right now,” said Evans, “but it’s things like this Stand Down that remind me there are still people out there who are willing to help me figure it out.”
Learn More Online
To learn more about homeless veterans or to find out how you can help eradicate veteran homelessness, visit www.va.gov/homeless or call 877-4AID-VET. To learn more about DAV’s Charitable Service Trust, visit www.cst.dav.org.