Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) helps Veterans most at risk – the homeless – through a series of programs and events throughout the year.
In October, the program hosted a Homeless Veterans Stand Down at the Urgent Care Center in New Orleans. The Stand Down is an annual event aiding local homeless Veterans and civilians. This year 233 attendees received a hot meal and critical items like clothes, shoes and hygiene products. Veterans at the event also received medical screenings and flu shots as well as enrollment processing and mental health information.
Navy Veteran Neal McKain, 29, was one of the first Veterans through the doors. He came to New Orleans to attend college, but without any help or guidance he soon fell on hard times.
"After being in the military, some of us just aren’t ready for the civilian life. The mindset is totally different and it’s hard to transition," he explained.
McKain is working on getting into transitional housing with help from social worker Val Hebert.
"These Veterans need stability in order to get their lives back on track, and that’s what we try to give them," Hebert said.
In December, the HCHV program hosts its annual Homeless Holiday Party at the Elks’ Lodge in Metairie. The party offers homeless Veterans a hot meal, access to services, and a much-needed moment of peace and togetherness, according to HCHV coordinator Ken Rocky.
Special events like the Stand Down and Homeless Holiday Party supplement the HCHV program’s regular offerings and give Veterans unfamiliar with the program a chance to learn about benefits available to them.
This year, HCHV staff processed 110 Veterans through the Stand Down and nearly 200 attended the holiday party. Many were enrolled in VA health care, but not all were aware of the benefits available to them.
"When I first got here, I didn’t know anyone or anything. [HCHV] has really helped a lot of Veterans get their lives back in order," McKain said, noting that without the help of VA employees like Hebert, he would still be sleeping on friends’ couches rather than working on getting enrolled in college.
"When you’re out on your own, it’s difficult. This program helps get people like me off the streets and transitioned back into civilian life," he said.
Once Veterans like McKain had a chance to go through the Stand Down, non-Veterans were admitted and offered food and clothing. The holiday party was also open to anyone in need.
"We’re not going to turn away anyone that needs help," said SLVHCS Director Julie Catellier. She and SLVHCS Chief of Staff Dr. Paul Rosenfeld helped out during the Stand Down, at one point distributing water to homeless men and women waiting to come into the event. Mental Health Clinic Manager Richard Breaux was on hand with several staff members for the holiday party.
"We are so grateful," one woman, identifying herself only as Mary, said as she waited. "Thank you all so much for opening your hearts and arms to us."