When Rosemary Griffin, a peer support specialist at the Sierra Vista Outreach Clinic, approached Jim Patterson, a homeless Veteran, and his dog Jack in the parking lot of a grocery store in March 2021, she had no idea that she was about to change his life forever. He had no idea that he would also change hers through a new friendship built on trust and camaraderie.
“I had an instinctive feeling he was a Veteran,” Griffin recalled. “His backpack was rolled similar to what you would see in a modern-day rucksack for the military. I asked him if he was homeless or if he needed assistance.”
Griffin, who is also a Veteran of the Army and National Guard, was spot on about her assumption.
“No maam, I’m not homeless,” Patterson said. “I’m traveling.”
Griffin asked Patterson if he had a place to stay for the night. She told him about available assistance and supportive services for Veterans who are in need of housing and food.
Explained HUD-VASH program
Griffin explained the Housing Urban Development VA Supportive Housing (HUD – VASH) program that combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services. It helps Veterans and their families who are homeless find and sustain permanent housing.
Through public housing authorities, HUD provides rental assistance vouchers for privately owned housing to Veterans who are eligible for VA health care services and are experiencing homelessness.
Peer support specialist Rosemary Griffin
VA case managers connect Veterans with support services, such as health care, mental health treatment and substance abuse counseling to help them in their recovery process.
Patterson was interested but was reluctant. Griffin assured him she’d be in touch with him.
VA team quickly went to work
Griffin returned to her office and coordinated with social worker Michael Wisely and nurse Lourdes Mulick. They registered Patterson into the HUD-VASH program and connected him with supportive clinical care and resources.
Wisely made temporary hotel accommodations for Patterson while enrolling him in the HUD-VASH program. When Griffin, Wisely and Mulik discovered Patterson wasn’t receiving VA Health care, they immediately began taking the appropriate steps to enroll Patterson into the system.
Three hours later, Patterson was enrolled at Tucson VA and had access to Primary Care.
Birthday present – your own apartment
The next day, Patterson’s birthday, he went to his scheduled appointment to learn more about his new health care benefits. He was in for another surprise when learned he would be in temporary housing until he was approved for permanent housing through a voucher provided by VA’s HUD-VASH sister partner Prima Vera.
Griffin and Wisely bought food for Patterson, and then funded temporary hotel accommodations and items of necessity out of their own pockets. Within a week, Patterson had been approved for permanent housing and food vouchers.
Furniture for his new apartment was provided by St. Vincent DePaul Catholic organization, another sister partner of VA HUD VASH.
“We could not have done any of this without our sister partners,” Griffin said.
Among VA homeless continuum of care programs, HUD-VASH enrolls the largest number and largest percentage of Veterans who have experienced long-term or repeated homelessness. At the end of FY 2021, 100,570 subsidized housing vouchers were allocated to HUD-VASH with nearly 80,000 formerly homeless Veterans living in their own permanent housing as a result of this partnership between HUD and VA.
Since moving into his new apartment, Patterson has found a part-time job, managed to buy a car, finished furnishing his new apartment, has reconnected with family, and has recently hosted dinner.
Griffin occasionally checks in with Patterson to make sure he’s settling in. She’s thankful VA and their partners were able to provide assistance.
“Just being a helping hand and an advocate for Veterans is what we do,” she said. “This is not a job for me. This is my life. One thing Patterson has taught me is, despite anything you’ve experienced, never give up.”