The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center’s (MEDVAMC) 40-bed domiciliary residence for homeless Veterans reopened on July 20, 2009. Hurricane Ike, which devastated southeast Texas last September with estimated damages of $20 billion, also ravaged the VA facility located at 7329 Fannin Street.
“After Hurricane Ike damaged our domiciliary, we moved those Veterans into temporary housing inside the hospital. While not ideal, the Veterans understood it was a temporary solution and maintained a positive attitude,” said Acting Medical Center Director Blase A. Carabello, M.D., F.A.C.C. “We are undeterred and remain committed to the struggle against chronic homelessness among our nation’s Veterans.”
MEDVAMC’s Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans (DCHV) Program provides medical care and rehabilitation services in a residential and therapeutic setting to eligible ambulatory Veterans challenged by medical conditions, psychiatric disorders, or physical injuries who do not need hospitalization or nursing home care.
“Featuring 14 apartments with kitchenettes and a 40-person dining facility, our domiciliary residence is another way for the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center to bring Veterans in need of assistance together with the wide range of programs and services VA provides,” said Chief of Staff J. Kalavar, M.D.
The mission of the program is to provide an opportunity for motivated, at-risk Veterans to achieve his/her optimal level of functioning and return to independent community living. This short-term residential rehabilitation program allows Veterans to learn skills needed to live in the community and avoid a return to homelessness.
“Our domiciliary is even better than before,” said Health Care for Homeless Veterans Director Luis Paulino. “The security system has been upgraded, the carpet was replaced with nice-looking tile floors, new windows, and we even have a beautiful water fountain in the courtyard.”
“This is a place where a person must make a decision or choice on which direction to take,” said one resident of the facility. “The Domiciliary Program is a place where you can choose to change your life direction and get on the road to recovery and positive living.”
Residents in the DCHV Program participate in a full range of rehabilitation services in a recovery model of care. Services include comprehensive medical and psychiatric assessments; “bio-psycho-social” treatments that include medications, psychotherapies for problems like addiction, depression, and anxiety, and social interventions such as vocational and occupational therapies; and opportunities to enhance one’s spirituality. The facility does not provide shelter-type housing; Veterans must be willing to participate in treatment activities while they are living there.
“While the amount of time varies for each resident, most Veterans live at the facility between one and six months depending on the programs the Veteran is involved with and the Veteran’s individual needs,” said Paulino.
VA estimates that about one-third of the adult homeless population served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Current population estimates suggest about 195,000 Veterans (male and female) nationwide are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. Many other Veterans are considered near homeless or at risk because of their poverty, lack of support from family and friends, and dismal living conditions in cheap hotels or in overcrowded or substandard housing.
Family background, access to support from family and friends, and various personal characteristics, rather than military service, seem to be the strongest indicators of risk for homelessness. About 45 percent of homeless Veterans suffer from mental illness and, with considerable overlap, slightly more than 70 percent suffer from alcohol or other drug abuse problems.
For more information about programs for homeless Veterans, contact the MEDVAMC Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program, now co-located with the DCHV, at (713) 794-7848. New patient intakes continue at the McGovern Drop-in Center, (713) 794-7533, located at 1418 Preston Street, one block from Minute Maid Park at the corner of Preston and La Branch. Veterans needing immediate assistance may also call the VA Network Telecare Center at (713) 794-8985 or toll free 1 (800) 639-5137 seven days a week, 24 hours a day.