The Veterans Outreach Center (VOC) has been helping veterans at the Lodestar Day Resource Center at the Human Services campus for 6 years. After a one-year closure due to the pandemic, the VOC reopened with a plan to provide high-impact services while protecting clients and social distancing.
One-on-One Care for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness
“We are more effective than ever before,” said Chuck Ashby, Catholic Charities MANA House Veterans' Outreach Coordinator. “Before, the VOC operated more as a lounge for veterans experiencing homelessness. They could come in and rest, use computers, drink coffee, and get help with services. Now, veterans receive more one-on-one attention. We assess their needs and get them moving toward transitional or permanent housing.”
CDC health and safety protocols limit the number of veterans in the center to only three clients at a time. This limitation became a blessing for Ashby and his team of volunteers who are all veterans and have experienced homelessness themselves. They are able to work together to get clients connected to resources so they will be housed more quickly. “We have seen 8 veterans move from homelessness to being housed since the VOC reopened in March,” said Ashby.
Volunteers Expand Reach of VOC
The VOC is staffed Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Volunteers from the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) make it possible. “Originally we weren’t going to be open Monday through Friday but this team of volunteers allowed us to expand our schedule,” said Ashby. “This is the best team I’ve had since we opened the VOC.”
Will Calandra, a Navy veteran and SCSEP volunteer, handles new client intake at the VOC. “The fact that I’m a veteran allows clients to identify with me,” said Calandra. He knows what it’s like to be in their shoes; he was once homeless himself and got help at MANA House. “Being able to serve at the VOC makes me proud, I can help others because I was in a similar situation.”
Air Force veteran and SCSEP volunteer Joe Martin has been serving at the VOC since shortly after it opened. Ashby refers to Martin as the “Swiss army knife” of the VOC. “He knows how to do everything,” said Ashby. The experience is rewarding for Martin, “Every day I know I’m going to be able to help a veteran. The VOC is a wonderful resource and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Providing Immediate Help
When veterans come to the VOC for help, the focus is on getting them off the street. The VOC provides veterans with hygiene items, clothing, computer access, help with filling out dd-214s, and other immediate needs. Clients can get help with paperwork and learn about resources from the VOC team. The VOC staff then collaborates with other agencies to facilitate veteran movement toward being housed more quickly and efficiently.