Thanks to a grant from the George Link Foundation, the Fresh Start for Veterans initiative, HELP USA (HELP) delivers and coordinates critical services for homeless and at-risk veterans and their families. The initiative has continued to serve veteran tenants of the Genesis Neighborhood Plaza II (GNP II) permanent housing development. Of the 98 units at GNP II, 49 of the units are occupied by formerly homeless disabled veterans / veteran families with mental health issues.  In addition, HELP’s two adjacent supportive housing complexes – Genesis Homes and Genesis Neighborhood Plaza I (GNP I) – are renting apartments to an increasing number of veteran families who have secured Section 8 housing subsidies through the Veteran’s Administration Supportive Housing Program (VASH).

HELP continues to utilize the George Link, Jr. Foundation’s support to fund and expand the specialized veterans’ initiative within HELP R.O.A.D.S., HELP’s counseling and advocacy program for victims of violence and individuals with extensive trauma histories. This multidisciplinary veteran’s initiative provides targeted, trauma informed supportive services to assist veterans achieve a better quality of life.

A majority of the veterans served by this initiative have histories of chronic homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness and have been resistant to engagement in traditional service programs available through the VA Medical Centers and other institutional settings. Most are also affected by long-term mental health issues such as Post-traumatic Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety and Depression, including nightmares or difficulty sleeping, distressing memories & thoughts, anxiety and panic, irritability and anger, as well as emotional numbing or loss of interest in activities or people.[3]  Without the Fresh Start initiative many of HELP’s veteran tenants in East New York would remain disconnected from vital supportive services, untreated for mental illnesses or other disabilities, and would be at an even greater risk of falling back into the cycle of homelessness.

Services through the Fresh Start initiative are delivered by a Psychotherapist with more than 12 years of experience working with at-risk populations and a Ph.D. Program Director with a strong background in trauma informed therapies and treatment of post-traumatic stress. This experienced and qualified staff develops an individualized service plan for each Fresh Start veteran. Service plans include a combination of individual counseling sessions; on and off-site service referrals; enrollment in on-site clinical groups and workshops; advocacy activities; and financial empowerment services. All of these services and activities are designed to reinforce coping skills, decrease isolation, and increase decision-making and social skills.

Since the implementation of the initiative in the spring of 2012, HELP R.O.A.D.S. staff has conducted formal and/or informal assessments of over 46 veteran tenants at GNP I and GNP II. Since the initiative’s expansion in November 2013 with the HELP R.O.A.D.S. staff has worked with an additional 23 veteran tenants, 18 of which attend sessions on a regular basis.

HELP R.O.A.D.S. provides services to HELP’s veteran tenants approximately 10 hours per week. Issues addressed by the initiative include topics appropriate for recently housed homeless veterans:  managing unstructured time, community reintegration, and achieving financial stability. In addition to the provision of individual supportive counseling, HELP R.O.A.D.S. provides financial security coaching for tenants, including money management, banking, and financial counseling. These activities are geared towards helping participants attain long-term financial goals, and are also critical to helping veterans remain stably housed.

Fresh Start veterans identified several common needs including: relationship enhancement, increased emotional stability, and increased trust among their peers and other members of the residential community.  With the renewal from the George Link, Jr. Foundation beginning in November 2013, HELP has continued to expand the HELP R.O.A.D.’s veterans’ initiative to include trauma-informed services and workshops to address these needs more intensively. All of these services are delivered in a way that integrates them with the existing continuum of care.  These workshops include:

 

  • Expressive Therapies: encourages independent creative expression through the use of creative arts. This program is carried out through the Fresh Start Creative Arts and Writing Group. It utilizes art and other creative activities including music and poetry as therapeutic tools.  This enhances the veteran’s self-awareness and self-expression.
  • Relaxation Management: Fresh Start’s Relaxation Groups and SAMSHA’s Exercise Groups assist in promoting balance to life and promoting healthy sleeping habits, in order to reduce stress and anger. Relaxation techniques include mediations and deep breathing exercises. The group has also introduced safe and effective exercise techniques as well as good nutrition.
  • Life Skills: recreation activities and games that reinforce personal care, self-care and nutrition.

 

For the purpose of data collection and performance measurement, services delivered through the Fresh Start Initiative are measured by “service units.” A “service unit” is defined as an individual or group counseling session, appointment, or substantial action taken on behalf of the participant. Since we last updated you in April on what the George Link, Jr. Foundation’s funding has enabled the Fresh Start Initiative to achieve, we have greatly increased the initiative’s “service units.”

 

  • Counseling: 437 units of additional individual trauma focused cognitive behavior therapy, clinical therapy, and support group sessions between April and August 2014.
  • Advocacy: 53 additional units of advocacy activities between April and August 2014.
  • Referrals: 100 additional units of supported referrals for substance abuse treatment, medical assistance, housing, psychiatric services, education services, employment assistance, etc. between April and August 2014.
  • Financial Services: 82 additional units of financial literacy, money management, and other financial empowerment activities designed to foster economic self-sufficiency between April and August 2014.
  • Telephone Assistance: 14 additional units between April and August 2014.

 

The services provided through the Fresh Start Initiative work to reinforce coping skills, decrease isolation, and increase social skills and the veterans’ feeling of self-worth.  This approach has been vital to the veterans’ remediation process of both past and current experiences of loneliness and distress.

 

Additional Service for Veterans

In coordination with services provided through HELP R.O.A.D.S. the tenants of the GNP II’s 49 veterans units receive comprehensive case management, mental health and primary health care services, substance abuse counseling, and a range of empowerment services including employment and educational training and placement.   The core case management services for GNP II veterans are provided through a partnership with Services for the Underserved (SUS) an experienced provider of residential and supportive services to mentally ill and chemically dependent homeless adults.  Through the VASH (VA Supportive Housing Section 8) program, these tenants also have access to supplemental case management services which connect them to the local VA Medical Center and the full resources of the Veterans Integrated Service Network 3.   The Genesis Property Director attends weekly service meetings with SUS and VASH Case Management staff to facilitate the highest level of collaboration among all agencies working with the tenants. The Genesis Director also plays a key role in the housing stability of these veteran tenants by functioning as the liaison between the on-site services providers and the property management company. HELP utilizes a portion of the George Link, Jr. Foundation’s funding to coordinate veteran services for all of its East New York housing developments.

 

We are very pleased with the success of the Fresh Start for Veterans services though the George Link, Jr. Foundation’s 2014 grant renewal for the period beginning November, 2013.  We thank you again for your generous support, and we look forward to submitting an application to the Foundation for 2015. Please let me know if you would like additional information about any of our program activities.

 

 

[3]Julia M. Whealin, Warzone-Related Stress Reactions: What families need to know, A National Center for PTSD Fact Sheet.