A Veteran Success Story in Ending Veteran Homelessness
Reluctant Veteran Embraces Help to End His Homelessness
Michael’s Story | July 7, 2015
Michael was a Los Angeles-area Veteran who’d fallen hard times. For 10 years, he lived primarily under a bridge along the Los Angeles River. When Michael was first approached by outreach workers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Mental Health America (MHA) of Los Angeles, a VA grantee under the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program, he resisted their entreaties to get help.
Like so many chronically homeless Veterans who’ve lived for years on the streets, Michael had come to feel ashamed of his appearance and resisted taking the difficult steps to come in from the outside. He didn’t want to be homeless, but the complexity of his circumstance made him reluctant to respond to offers of support.
VA and MHA outreach workers often encounter such resistance in their work to reach and serve Veterans like Michael. They empathized with Michael, but persisted in trying help him. Outreach workers visited his encampment weekly, determined to build a rapport and, most importantly, to earn Michael’s trust.
For the first month, MHA workers met with Michael at his tent to assess his comfort level. At first, he remained inside his tent. The visits continued, with workers talking with Michael about housing solutions, VA health care services and potential income sources.
A breakthrough came during an unfortunate incident when Michael’s leg became infected and he needed health care services. Still Michael refused to go to VA, and so MHA outreach workers arranged for the delivery of medical supplies and care tent-side. Michael continued to meet with these health workers outside his tent, and they gained his trust. He eventually agreed to visit an MHA office, where he showered, got a cell phone and accessed a computer for the first time in his life.
This initial connection led to MHA connecting Michael to VA mental health and primary care services to address the chronic health issues that had worsened after more than a decade on the streets.
This led to Michael getting additional support from VA and the community, including a referral to permanent housing through the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. He quickly received a voucher and obtained a home, where he’s lived for at least a year. He has reconnected with his family, and is getting employment skills through VAs Compensated Work Therapy program.
Michael is active in his community and is no longer homeless.