Homeless vets to get help thanks to grant

Thursday, July 19, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:26 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Homeless veterans in Columbia will soon receive assistance in the form of a grant from the Department of Veteran Affairs.

In a joint effort, Phoenix Programs Inc. will work side by side with Truman Veterans Hospital in hopes of creating a better environment for homeless vets. When the $102,821 grant is received, the two parties will have 60 days to start the project.

Phoenix Programs is a local nonprofit organization that was incorporated in 1974. Its mission is to reduce the effects of alcoholism and drug addiction by providing treatment, support and educational services. Deborah Beste, executive director of the organization, estimates that 10 percent of her clients are veterans.

Beste said that the organization’s main role will be to connect veterans to outpatient treatment as well as to provide housing. Clinical assessments and referrals will be done by Denise Heet, coordinator of homeless vets at the VA Hospital. Heet estimates that there are 100 homeless vets in Columbia, but only 10 are being treated now.

Although Columbia’s VA hospital already offers a number of services for the 30,000 veterans in central Missouri, the grant will provide assistance that the hospital has not provided before, such as outpatient treatment and housing.

The project will primarily provide transitional housing but also will provide treatment for vets with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Veterans will be encouraged to work or volunteer and will receive skill training and other education.

Beste emphasized that ”veterans will be connecting with a larger community of persons who are in transition of homelessness and active addiction to a recovery-oriented lifestyle.”

The VA hospital “will take into consideration those who have had little or no contact with us” in an attempt to reach out to those who haven’t had the opportunity to use the hospital’s resources, Beste said. Decisions on who would be eligible for the program will be made on an individual basis.

The VA grant is a one-year project that is eligible for renewal. The plan will provide nine patients at a time with housing and outpatient treatment for six months, but some cases will be taken in consideration based on the patient’s condition. No one will be cut off from treatment, Beste said.

Staff who will work with the patients are categorized into two groups: certified substance abuse counselors and housing specialists.

The housing location is yet to be determined, Beste said, but treatment will be delivered at the Phoenix outpatient site on 409 Vandiver Road.

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