Breaking the cycle of the homeless one veteran at a time at the Hawley Veterans Service Center

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Every 65 minutes in America, a veteran commits suicide and in San Diego County, about one veteran commits or attempts suicide every two days. San Diego has the third highest number of homeless veterans in the U.S. and it has the lowest amounts of beds for those homeless vets. Volunteers of America identified this need and went forward with the Hawley Veterans Service Center.

Every 65 minutes in America, a veteran commits suicide and in San Diego County, about one veteran commits or attempts suicide every two days. San Diego has the third highest number of homeless veterans in the U.S. and it has the lowest amounts of beds for those homeless vets. Volunteers of America identified this need and went forward with the Hawley Veterans Service Center.

Hawley opened in March 2013 and maintains full capacity. A long-term program, from 18-24 months, it provides a wide range of services that begin with personal case management. It provides assistance with transportation, all of the client’s hygiene products, laundry facilities and three meals a day, essentially all of the client’s daily needs, including medical services held on site. It also conducts various workshops on spirituality, employment readiness, resume building, budgeting, health and wellness and other training, that helps specific veteran’s needs.

This is one reason that Janeal M. Ford, Volunteers of America (VOA) director of Development & Community said it became involved. With the help of many partners, Hawley is doing just that—getting homeless veterans off the streets one at a time.

“It is huge issue, and studies show that homelessness is not always attributed to combat related difficulties, it many cases it is the transition back into civilian life and lack of resources,” said Ford. “Though much of it can be related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or combat injuries, much of it is just despair of not having what you need.”

That is where the Hawley Veterans Center steps in. A 20-bed facility houses single male disabled veterans in the comfort and security on a 1.5-acre facility in the El Cajon countryside. Hawley provides the basic essentials needed for everyday life and a safe environment so at the end of the 24 months they are ready to transition to permanent housing and economic stability

With the help of many partners, including Bank of America, Home Depot Foundation and EcoMedia, volunteers provided these homeless veterans with a home, fully equipped with a community garden, basketball and volleyball courts, outdoor BBQ, horseshoe pits and grounds covered in artificial turf that transformed the dusty hillside into home for those without one. 

Katee Finks, program director, works with these veterans every day and said that the program is a success, but there much more needed to help provide the clients with the tools for success they so desperately need.

Fink’s “wish list” is long, but she said she believes goals can be met with the help of the community. With funding from Bank of America for two years, Hawley’s has an onsite medical clinic with a doctor that visits twice a month. Fink said this does not preempt the care given by the Veterans Administration Hospital in La Jolla, but it helps with one of its barriers of being in the countryside, which is a five-hour bus trip for clients if other transportation is not available.

Fink said they continuously need help in keeping up with the daily needs of clients and takes on-site donations.

“In particular, we can use job readiness clothing but need clothing of all type,” said Fink. “We literally take clients off the street, so I have had clients coming in with nothing but the clothes on their back.”

Looking further, Finks said another way to help is community involvement. She said they see the clients every day, but the veterans light up when someone from the community comes to the Center and helps.

“Another way I would love to see the community get involved is if people have a special skill would come in and teach a class,” she said. “If they are spiritual, maybe they can come in and do a Bible study, if they are great with finances, help teach our budgeting workshop. The clients work with us every day, but when someone comes in from the community into the facility, it seems to make a real impact on them.”

One essential need that Hawley is trying to set up is a computer lab. She said it is critical currently to be computer literate as many applications and processes are computer generated.

“We really want to help, especially the ones that have been on the streets for a long period of time,” she said. “Today, computer literacy is not an option. Together we have had great success in developing a hybrid workshop idea where you teach a workshop on any subject and you involve the computer in that way. You are teaching computer skills kind of by default.”

Hawley currently has no computers that clients can use and one thing Fink wants to see the Center move towards.

“Even if we help them find a job online, once they get a job, there is a strong probability that they will need to know how to use a computer,” she said, “They need the ability to learn the computer, how it operates and what it can do. Even just a few computers, to get that start up would be a tremendous step forward.”

Fink said something else close to her heart is working on is a program where to reach out to local colleges and the younger returning veterans.

“It seems like these younger veterans slip through the cracks,” she said. “They come back, go to school, their funds run out and I have met several of these veterans that are now homeless. My goal is to find out the best way I can reach out to that group of vets. The older vets that have gone through the system have case mangers and get referrals, but the younger returning vets that do not have the physical issues that push them into the VA medical services on a regular basis are ones that are missing out.”

Veterans of America collectively have 29 programs, working with children, rehabilitation, senior services and veterans.

To find out more about the Hawley Veteran Service Center, donate money, volunteer or drop off donations directly visit www.voa-swcal.org.

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