After his release from incarceration for drug-related offenses, Army Veteran Reginald Newkirk found stable housing with assistance from the Veterans Justice Outreach Program and its resources for Veterans experiencing homelessness.
Newkirk served in the Army from 1980 to 1983 and was honorably discharged. Upon his return to civilian life, Newkirk found several employment opportunities. But he began to experience issues with substance use, which resulted in homelessness in 1990.
“I was living on the streets selling and using drugs,” said Newkirk. “It was a tough time for me.”
After his incarceration, which included time in and out of state penitentiaries and six months in the Riker’s Island jail, Newkirk’s drug-related case entered the Manhattan Veterans Treatment Court. The court helped place him into the Samaritan Village Veterans Residential Program, which provides drug and alcohol dependency treatment and mental health services to Veterans. Newkirk took advantage of the program to work on his substance use recovery for a little over two years.
During his residence at Samaritan Village, Newkirk also enrolled in the Manhattan VA Medical Center’s Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program, where he participated in work therapy and group counseling.
“The thing I liked about the CWT program… we always had job fairs, work fairs, resume building, and all of this other stuff that I was disconnected from before,” said Newkirk. “I didn’t know that I was even eligible for things like that.”
Resilience, strength, and a sense of accomplishment
When Newkirk was ready to look for a new community to live in, he found that the coronavirus pandemic significantly limited his options for housing and employment. Adding to those pandemic stressors, Newkirk had to quarantine on two separate occasions for two weeks each time. But Newkirk showed resilience and strength throughout these challenges by staying away from drugs and alcohol. In June 2020, he was referred to the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program and was approved for a HUD-VASH voucher to help him find a safe and stable place to call home. Through HUD-VASH, Newkirk was approved for a project-based voucher site called Edwin’s Place in Brooklyn. The housing complex provides 126 apartments for homeless and low-income individuals, including Veterans and their families, in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood.
In March 2021, after completing his three years of court-mandated programs, Newkirk saw his drug-related felony case dismissed by the Manhattan court system. The strength, perseverance, and resilience that Newkirk demonstrated during those three years had paid off. At his virtual graduation from Manhattan Veterans Treatment Court, he was deemed “an inspiration” for fellow Veterans.
“Right now, it feels really good,” said Newkirk. “It feels good to know that I accomplished some things.”
Newkirk now resides in his own one-bedroom apartment and has received his COVID-19 vaccine. He serves as a mentor for Veterans enrolled in the CWT program and offers them encouragement.
“He steps up constantly to help,” said Normajean Dellapina, CWT coordinator of the New York Harbor Healthcare System. “He is evidence of a committed recovery process and we’re so proud of him.”
Newkirk is currently waiting to return to his CWT work assignment once COVID-19 precautions allow the program to resume.
“If I had to give back and talk to people, I would say trust the process and keep everything up front,” said Newkirk. “VA is for us. It has a lot a lot of great people, so let your pride go, let your ego go, and go to VA.”
- If you or someone you know is a justice-involved Veteran, email the VJO Specialist nearest you for assistance accessing VA health care services.
- For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit VA’s COVID-19 resource page.
- 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).
- Subscribe to the Homeless Programs Office newsletter to receive monthly updates about programs and supportive services for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Siobhan Dannacker, LCSW, is a Veterans Justice Outreach coordinator at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System.