Picture this: As you are driving, you notice on the side of the road, a person holding a cardboard sign that reads, “Homeless Veteran, anything helps.”

The scenario is easy to imagine but knowing how to help is not always as clear.

Fortunately, there are several ways we can all help Veterans who might be in this situation. Tune into this month’s episode of the Ending Veteran Homelessness podcast as Eileen Devine, national director for Health Care for Homeless Veterans, discusses the power of outreach.

Listen to “S1EP3: All About Outreach – Meeting Veterans Where They (Literally) Are” on Spreaker.

A Devine intervention

When Eileen Devine was a social work graduate student, she had the opportunity to complete her practicum work at the Portland VA Medical Center. She believed so strongly in the work she was doing that she did not want to stop after graduating.

“Fast forward about 20 years and here I am, still loving working in the system and working with Veterans,” Devine says.

Serving Veterans across various inpatient and outpatient settings within VA has provided Devine with a thorough understanding of the circumstances that cause homelessness for many Veterans. Yet, Devine’s reputation as a changemaker for Veterans stems from a more fundamental understanding that we each have a responsibility to help each other.

“Outreach is the backbone of our program.”

Devine helps thousands of Veterans and their families every day in her role. She describes outreach as the “backbone” of Health Care for Homeless Veterans.

The program’s team of clinical social workers and peer support specialists go into the community to find Veterans who might not be aware of VA’s services. Many are unsure how to access VA’s help or are hesitant to accept help.

Some members of the team are Veterans who have experienced homelessness themselves.

Empathy and dignity are the cornerstones of every interaction. The team understands that an individual might be experiencing homelessness for a variety of reasons. Their experience may involve significant trauma. Devine says they ask Veterans, “What is your story? What has happened to you?”

In addition to individual outreach, Health Care for Homeless Veterans conducts outreach at the community level through:

  • Hosting Stand Downs: One- to three-day events during which VA staff and volunteers provide food, clothing and health screenings and referrals to homeless and at-risk Veterans.
  • Operating Community Resource and Referral Centers: These are known as “one-stop shops” for Veterans to receive housing and health care services in areas with high concentrations of Veterans experiencing homelessness around America.
  • Coordinating entry efforts between VA and existing community programs to ensure Veterans receive the comprehensive care and resources they deserve.

Devine describes the teamwork that occurs between VA and community organizations as a powerful catalyst for change. She says, “If we work together, we’re going to be able to accomplish more.”

How you can help

The next time you see a Veteran experiencing homelessness, what can you do to help?

“I would encourage you to begin looking at your own community and the agencies that serve homeless individuals. And just picking up the phone and calling them and asking them, ‘What are some ways I can help? What is the best use of my time?” says Devine. “They can tell you exactly what’s going on in that community, where they need people, where they need resources. And then you can begin there.”

To begin helping Veterans in your community today:

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  1. Gail Nohr July 30, 2022 at 9:49 am - Reply

    I am trying to talk with our VISN Director about developing a tiny home village for veterans near our VA clinic and trying to get some support for this effort but am not getting a response. We have investors and can partner with the VA and a developer but I do not know how to make this happen for our veterans without a communication from her. Do you have any suggestions for me?

  2. PETERS JONES July 28, 2022 at 9:08 am - Reply


    [Editor: Please read the story to learn why it is spelled with an “e.”]

  3. Jerry July 28, 2022 at 3:46 am - Reply

    People are always quick to say thank you for your service, but when it comes to action and stepping up to the plate, no swing, no balls, no walk to first.
    I have experienced several veteran interim housing programs that are blatant income streams for thoses running them with little empathy or actual results. Lip service and referrals to other lip service and more referrals.
    A month ago I was about to cross the street at the crosswalk with 12 seconds to do so. There was a car stopped at the crosswalk. It was dark an reflections on the windshield prevented eye contact but I assumed he was waiting for me to cross. As i stepped into the street, he started to make a right on red not bothering to look to see if someone might be crossing. The car knocked me down and rolled up both of my legs. I guess I made enough noise to get him to stop at th top of my legs and he backed off.
    I told you this so you can understand how appalled I was when the first hospital took many x-rays, said no breaks and wheeled me out and dumped me on the bus stop bench at 2AM. I was also treated like an idiot that knew nothing and when I mentioned getting run over by a car some snotty nurse replied “you didn’t get run over by a car”
    At bus stop emt told me to suck it up and squeezed my leg hard instead of using the sheet. Next hospital, I was totally disrespected and robbed of personal property. 6 days later lack of wound care caused infections and I had to “crawl” out to get to the VA where antibiotics took care of the infection but was only given one option for pain. Oxycontin.
    Now a month after it happened, still no shock therapy or PTSD treatment. And the best they can do for placement is a plastic mattress in a cubicle with room capacity of 50. A “one sheet, NO PILLOW! A cheap thin blanket. No key to lock anything in the 2′ square cupboard. No access to food other than 3 so called meals. No nutritional value at all.
    And a 9:00 curfew. Last time I had that I was in 4th grade.
    We va send BILLIONS to other countries but get a vet that is in pain and is confined to a wheelchair for at least a couple of months a motel room for a few days. I guess I’m asking too much.

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