In November 2018, Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital opened Freedoms Path Hines II, an apartment building on its campus in Hines, Illinois, offering 52 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units to eligible local Veterans through the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. For Navy Veteran John Fischer, HUD-VASH was the second chance he’d be looking for.
HUD-VASH combines Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing vouchers with VA supportive services to help Veterans who are homeless find and sustain permanent housing.
Fischer, a Navy Veteran who was a lifelong resident of Brookfield, Illinois, came from a big family. He had lived in the same house his entire life until his parents died, at which time the house was sold. Shortly thereafter, Fischer became homeless and lived in his car, losing 50 pounds in just two to three months.
He first heard about the program from his brother. When he applied to the program and was accepted, he was able to get back on his feet – soon finding permanent housing at Freedoms Path Hines I. But it was the Hines VA case workers and medical staff who got him healthy again.
“They will never snub you off,” Fischer said, of the staff at Hines. “Everyone is always willing to go the extra mile and make sure you get whatever you need.”
Finding new purpose and making an impact
In the summer of 2020, Fischer applied for a job at the Hines VA and obtained a 13-month position as a screener for symptoms associated with the coronavirus. He arrives at the hospital at 5 a.m. every day, where he is posted at one of the entrances to monitor the temperatures and possible symptoms of employees and patients before they enter. His work has helped keep the hospital safe while allowing COVID-19 patients to receive treatment.
Through his new job and HUD-VASH, Fischer has been able to find purpose and stability.
“I like to have a purpose and help the Veterans and employees in the hospital,” he said. “It gives you the sense that you’re doing your part… and that what we’re doing is working.”
Before landing his current position, Fischer was battling prostate cancer and diabetes until he was healthy enough to enroll in VA’s Compensated Work Therapy program in Feb. 2020. CWT is vocational rehabilitation program which helps Veterans get back into the workforce. Fischer was so successful that multiple colleagues wrote him letters of recommendation while he applied for his current position.
“Don’t be afraid to use all the avenues available to you. The counselors are here to help and if you are having trouble, don’t hesitate to ask for help,” Fischer said. “It is amazing what they give us. The people here are focused and are intent on helping you – it’s a great program all around.”
- For more information on the HUD-VASH program, visit VA’s HUD-VASH.
- Click here to learn more about the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital’s programs for Veterans experiencing homelessness.
- Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
Hilda M. Ramos, LCSW, is a social worker in the HUD-VASH programs at Jesse Brown and Hine’s VA Hospitals.