White River Junction VA Medical Center, Vermont
Another Step Toward Ending Veteran Homelessness
In a picturesque New England setting under clear blue sky, a large crowd gathers at a place called Boulder Point in Plymouth, NH and they are here to celebrate. This is, after all, the grand opening of Northern New Hampshire’s first permanent supportive housing facility for homeless Veterans.
Eight years in the making, Boulder Point is 29,000 square feet of residential space consisting of twenty-five, one-bedroom apartments appropriated for Veterans who are experiencing homelessness. Boulder Point is served by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) and Healthcare for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) programs. There are also five two-bedroom apartments for which Veterans and their families are given preference. White River Junction VA will provide on-site case management services for critical support.
The vision for this project came from a small group of area residents and community leaders who were concerned with the lack of resources available for homeless Veterans in the region. They enlisted the help of Harbor Homes Inc, a not-for-profit organization established in 1980 whose mission, as stated on their website, is “to create and provide quality residential, health care, and supportive services to individuals and families who are homeless and/or living with behavioral health disorders.” With a high level of tenacity and dedication, individuals like Cathy Bentwood from The Bridge House, a local homeless shelter succeeded in moving the idea forward. As obstacles emerged, including finding a sinkhole during construction, steadfast leadership from Harbor Homes provided the expertise and resources to keep the project on course. Numerous community and state organizations became involved throughout the project, providing vital assistance along the way.Still, there’s more to being homeless than not having a home. This is a complex issue that requires a lot of resources. So, when our nation’s heroes face homelessness, who can offer the expertise necessary to address the unique challenges faced by Veterans? Who is best equipped to provide well-researched and skillfully developed programming that offers meaningful assistance to Veterans in need? The obvious answer is the VA.
VA programs for homeless Veterans have served hundreds of thousands of homeless and at-risk Veterans every year. For the Boulder Point project, facility and service-level leadership at White River Junction VA Medical Center forged strong partnerships with Harbor Homes and key stakeholders. It was this collaboration and partnership, along with support from the Veterans Integrated Network (VISN), that helped transform this vision into reality.
White River Junction VA’s Homeless Veteran team led the way with placing Veterans at Boulder Point. Together they represent a strong team of social work and mental health professionals who have developed case management services to serve Veterans at Boulder Point and throughout the Twin States of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Rob Norris, Social Worker, has been a key player in this effort. “At Boulder Point I will provide ongoing intensive case management services for all participants by working with them to move forward, connecting to jobs, benefits, VA services and their community”, Rob explains. “Each will have an individualized plan with goals important to them for their housing stability and their quality of life.”
Over the past eight years Rob has been a tireless, dedicated champion of this project. He has responded to homeless referrals, providing case management across five counties in Northern NH and VT. He is quite familiar with the toll homelessness takes on human beings. Veterans have expressed feeling worthless, lonely, exhausted, depressed, and utterly dejected. Rob adds, “Being homeless makes finding employment, making plans, or feeling part of a community extremely difficult. Some individuals feel marginalized by society, angry, and resentful. A home provides so many things taken away by having to live in a car or the woods. A home is the base from which to work and address those things that matter most. When someone is homeless, quality of life is nonexistent. It’s just survival and trying to keep your head above water.”
Finding a remedy can be overwhelming, but the wins provide sheer joy. “I have seen Veterans over the years come out of the cold and into warm, secure, respectful dwellings such as those at Boulder Point. I have seen some cry and others sing and even dance. Most, though, are just grateful to have a place to call home, to hang their hat and start living again.” He states, “It has been so rewarding to represent the VA in connecting Veterans and their families to good housing solutions. They have given so much for our country. Every Veteran deserves a home. Some need time, though, to adjust to their new environment and get used to the idea of having a home, staying in just one location. The HUD-VASH Case Management services VA offers can help a lot with this and aids in moving forward with meaning and purpose.”
Homelessness amongst Veterans has decreased in the Twin States. In fact, four states have all but eradicated Veteran homelessness, a goal previously believed unattainable. Achieving such progress is a direct result of communities, businesses, and VA attacking an unacceptable situation nationwide.
Diligence and hard work by the VA and its community partners has led us to this beautiful late summer day to attend a special ribbon-cutting ceremony. Joyful anticipation, pride in a job well-done, and heartfelt gratitude permeate the energized mood of the large crowd attending which includes Veterans, community members, and two US Senators. A Veteran and his wife, brand new Boulder Point residents, are seated at the front. Overcome with gratitude, the Veteran offers an impromptu speech to express how he feels about the role the VA played. The crowd falls silent. “I have no words to describe what Rob has done for me. He found me and my wife in a motel with no resources and no place to go. I didn’t know what I was going to do. This hasn’t been an easy road for me or for Rob, but he stuck with me. He went above and beyond, was there at all hours for me,” he says as his voice starts to crack with emotion. “I love that guy”, he says as he points to Rob and, for levity, adds “and I love seeing that beautiful red hair - I’m always kidding him about that,” prompting laughter and applause.
The day ends with lunch provided by The Common Man restaurant, another important community partner followed by a facility tour that reveals apartments full of appeal with soothing color schemes and light-filled living spaces. A community room for residents to gather and a lovely cobblestone outdoor patio provide spaces to relax and socialize. The natural setting is serene, offering scenic mountain views and open green space yet close to shopping and the VA Medical Center.
Boulder Point is a shining example of the importance of community partnerships in improving the lives of our Veterans. It is a testament to the dedication of the White River Junction VA team, community and stakeholders. And it is yet another step toward ending Veteran homelessness!