Amazon donation helps connect 1,000+ homeless Veterans

Smartphones keep VA & community resources easy to reach


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Recently, Amazon donated smartphones to more than 1,000 homeless Veterans, keeping them connected to valuable VA and community resources.

Marine Corps Veteran Jason Maycumber, who lives in Santa Cruz, California, is one of them. Taking pictures of the ocean and surf while posting them for family and friends on social media allowed him to stay connected with family. 

Leveraging the capabilities of a smart device to take photos, connect over social media, have a video conversation or a virtual doctor’s appointment might seem commonplace in this age of technology, but for some Veterans like Maycumber, this connection was only recently possible, thanks to the VHA homeless program office and a donation from Amazon. 

So far, it has provided more than 1,100 cell phones to Veterans engaged in VHA’s Homeless Programs, along with a term of pre-paid service that recipients could continue if they choose.

The phones were distributed via VA Medical Centers in Battle Creek, MI; Boston, MA; Kansas City, MO; Las Vegas, NV; Palo Alto, CA; and Philadelphia, PA. Like many creative solutions, the cell phones program was born out of necessity: Veterans in community housing or other group environments were being relocated in quarantine to try to slow the spread of the pandemic, and VA providers and Veterans needed a way to stay connected. 

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Scott Maycumber in Santa Cruz, CA (taken from his phone).

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon’s donation made it possible for Veterans engaged in homeless programs to stay connected with their caregivers and support systems, particularly in instances where social distancing and quarantine limited access to face-to-face services and telecommunication resources,” said Nicole Harelik, national coordinator, Office of Analytics and Operational Intelligence, VHA Homeless Program Office. “We’ve received so much positive feedback from frontline staff detailing how these phones have helped maintain linkages, lifted spirits, and in some cases, saved lives. The VHA National Homeless Program Office is extremely grateful for our partnership with Amazon and for their generosity to the Veterans we serve.” 

Peter Voystock, a homeless program case manager in Philadelphia who works with Veterans struggling with unemployment and mental illness, found the phones to be valuable in maintaining contact. Voystock was able to remain in constant contact with the Veterans who received these phones in order to support housing services and wellness checks.  

It has been an incredible help that bridges communication barriers for some of our most vulnerable Veterans,” he said.

More than just a connection

Staying in touch with VA was certainly one of the goals of the program, but the additional impacts of being able to maintain connections during the pandemic have been immeasurable. Without access to these phones, the social connectivity provided by mobile devices and services would not be available to these Veterans in need. 

A senior Veteran receiving services from the Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supporting Housing (HUD-VASH) program in Philadelphia was “very grateful” to receive his phone, according to caseworker Jill Mullin. Living on his own for the first time in many years, he was nervous about not being able to contact anyone for assistance. 

“When he found out he was able to receive a free phone, he was really appreciative. He actually got a little teary-eyed when saying thank you and assured me, ‘I’m going to take good care of this,’” Mullin saidThe donated phone helped reduce his stress, feelings of isolation, and provided a way for him to stay in touch with both his caseworker and family during his move.  

“I think it also helped him feel cared for,” Mullin added. 

The Veteran uses his smart technology-enabled phone to call and make appointments with VA, but also to stay connected to family and friends, like his son in Iowa and a cousin who he recently called via video“I hadn’t seen her in 30 years!” said Maycumber. 

For more information about VA Homeless Programs and Services, click here. 

Author

Abigail Sanford Pitman

Abby has worked for the Veterans Experience Office since 2016. She has previously held change management and program analysis positions for several federal agencies. She currently lives in Lafayette, Colorado, with her husband and twin toddlers.

Comments

  1. James Price    

    I became a USAF Drug Addict during the Vietnam Era. Had never used drugs until my Service to our Country exposed me to unimaginable realities that became a daily need for acceptance and escapism….After my separation and transition back to the Real World life for me never involved the absence of drug use. I, like most, experienced success and failures and shadowed the illusion of normalcy until an experience overwhelmed my mental capacities to process and cope with what I now consider to have been my near death or homicidal precipice. I withdrew from everything and everyone and became homeless in 2014 completely self isolated and very very content in my isolation and depression.
    Somehow I was drawn into the Hud Vash program and entered the Veterans Drug Court Program where I was FORCED to become involved in the VA’s Mental Health Treatment Programs as well as attending structured Group meetings to deal with my 45 plus years of being an Addict.
    I was given a Subsidized Apartment to live in and stayed there for around 5 years. I was better than I had been but I was still a long way from where I need to be. Then I received a notice to vacate in 30 days as the Hud Vash lease agreement with the Propery Owners was being terminated. i was then told by the VA Hud Vash Coordinator that I would have to come up with the deposits and Search on my own for a place to live. Even tho I have no vehicle or the funds to do so and once again became homeless and ended up breaking my left ankle severely and ended up 500 miles away dependent on the generosity of a friends sister untill I was able to put weight on it and start over again. I wish I had not become accustomed to a roof over my head and food in my belly. I am now in a town where I know nobody with no vehicle and a place where I cant pay February’s rent or Marches unless a miracle happens. So my experience with Hud Vash has been a mixed bag but the OVERALL conclusion for me was one of abandonment and exclusion simply because a Property Management Company wanted to charge more for my apartment and separate from the Section 8 oversight that comes from working with the VA Hud Vash Program. No funding for even a short term loan was available for me and absolutely was a HUD VASH COORDINATOR gonna drive a 64 year old Veteran with a fresh ankle surgery that required a metal rod affixed to my left bone with 10 screws and the other bone attached with 8 more screws on March 19 2020 due to the Corona Virus. So I guess in 5 more days I after walking now for about a month will strip away the baggage of household items I have accrued ie bed, microwave etc and pack up the tent and sleeping bag and do it again….and Thank You VA for your temporary commitment to my wellness.

  2. William Hershman    

    I live in a small town in sc I have a friend that is a army veteran he is 60 years old lives in the woods and hangs around a local convince store and bumbs change change but he’s a good guy I’m a veteran too I was helping him I get his health benefits but im 61 now I have cancer and a fractured spine so I can’t get out something simple as a phone would help him how could he get on thanks

  3. Johnny5    

    Not dissimilar to the Obamaphones that are still available to anyone living in poverty in the USA.

  4. Cliff Mcquillion    

    I am thankful for the VA–joined in last year of high school in 70s
    Life has been good until lately
    health is excellent
    current housing arrangement un-comfortable —
    looking to learn about housing options

  5. Lydia Rucker    

    This very nice that the veterans can get this. I received a tablet through the VA to keeping in touch with my health care provider and look for housing.

  6. Cornell Hudson    

    How can I contact someone regarding Amazon donation of cell phones to homeless veterans.

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