Veterans Committee Meeting Minutes
April 3, 2015

In attendance: Beth Barbara, Veterans, Inc., Bryan Doe, Springfield Veterans Center, Steve Connor, Veteran Services Northampton, Gumersindo, Gomez, Bilingual Veterans, Tony Forzaglia, Veterans Inc, James Jordan, Veterans Services Westfield, James Mahoney, Veteran Services Holyoke, Melissa Mateus, Springfield Partners, Patty McDonnell, SMOC, Gerry McCafferty, City of Springfield/Hampden County CoC, Bill Miller, Friends of the Homeless, Lizzy Ortiz, City of Springfield, Netshari Ortiz, Soldier On, Fredy Palacio, Springfield Partners, Katherine Person, Veterans Inc., Jerry Ray, Mental Health Association, Pamela Schwartz, Network, Jim Seney, Veterans Medical Center, Becca Small, SMOC, Dom Sondrini, Soldier On, Kerry Spitzer, MIT graduate student, Susan White, Veterans Medical Center, Sabrina Willard, Springfield Partners

Network overview

Pamela Schwartz provided an overview of the Network’s mission and structure and a history of the veterans committee meetings over the last year in Northampton. The committee decided to meet in Springfield this month as part of an explicit outreach effort to Hampden County veteran providers. The effort to end veteran homelessness is part of the Network’s regional work pertaining to all homelessness and will be integrated into the Network’s Opening Doors Plan to End Homelessness that will be produced at the end of the June this year and form the basis for our collective work going forward.

Campaign to End Veteran Homelessness

Gerry McCafferty provided an overview of Hampden County’s Zero 2016 campaign to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 (chronic homelessness by 2016). In order to accomplish this in Hampden County, it would require housing 10 veterans per month and the CoC is currently at 5-6 per month.

Gerry provided data on homeless veterans in Hampden County. In 2014, 60 veterans came through emergency shelter. The Point in Time Count (1/29/15) identified 33 homeless veterans and 6 chronically homeless individuals. Click here for a breakdown of where the veterans are currently staying.

The group reviewed veteran-specific housing resources (also listed in the attachment). The goal of 2016 is to create a by-name list, assigning people to work with each veteran to obtain housing. It was noted that 8 additional units are opening at 247 Pine Street. The group discussed the distinction between dishonorable discharge and an “other than honorable” discharge and how the latter is NOT a barrier to housing. Those with dishonorable discharge are not eligible for veteran housing and our challenge includes connecting dots between those veterans and other available housing.

The group discussed at great length the issue of creating and implementing a Hampden County coordinated entry release of information form in order to enable the information sharing necessary to coordinate the housing effort. Jim Seney of the VA suggested that once the form is created, he would attempt to get approval from the VA to use this form as part of its intake process. The VA also has a release form that it will share with others. The Sheriff Dept. has a release form as well that we may want to look at.

Distribution and review of Veteran Outreach Survey and Veterans Benefits information sheet

Susan White distributed the outreach questionnaire  the veterans committee created (with thanks to Sue’s leadership) to assist non-veteran providers in identifying veterans eligible for veteran resources.

Steve Connor distributed the Chapter 115 Veterans Benefits Information Flyer the veterans committee created (with thanks to Steve’s leadership), advising veterans of the veterans benefits available to them under Chapter 115.

The veterans committee also created a “VSO tracking sheet” (with thanks to Katherine Person) so the committee can track interactions at Veterans Services offices if/when the VSO discourages an application.

Steve Connor also discussed his collaboration with the Northampton Housing Authority in the creation of a release form allowing the housing authority to contact a veterans provider in the event the tenancy is threatened for any reason. This release increases the chance of timely intervention and prevention of homelessness. The Statewide Commission to End Veteran Homelessness is looking at adopting this release form for housing authorities statewide.

The group discussed in general the vital importance of the providers – housing, health care, veteran – knowing each other to maximize successful housing efforts.

The group agreed that REACH meetings are the most ready-made vehicle for the individual housing match conversations. The next Springfield REACH meeting is April 1 at 2 pm at Friends of the Homeless.

Veteran Outreach to Unsheltered Veterans:

Bryan Doe expressed enthusiasm to partner with other outreach workers to engage unsheltered homeless veterans. We brainstormed outreach partners and below is a list for follow-up:

  • Rosemary Surdyka, Health Care for the Homeless (street outreach in Springfield): Work cell phone: 265-3292; clinic phone: 734-7140; [email protected]
  • Jim Munroe, Christ Church Cathedral, leads volunteers on the streets on Tuesday nights. 575-7989, [email protected]
  • Springfield Police Deputy Chief Bill Cochrane (good contact to learn more about how to reach people living outdoors), 413-787-6340, [email protected]
  • Marvin Gonzalez, Eliot CHS-Homeless Services, covers Holyoke/Chicopee region, is bi-lingual and a Veteran, 413-364-4142
  • Dawn Ventitozzi, Eliot CHS-Homeless Services, 339-234-4710

Next steps:

  • Gerry will finalize the draft of the Hampden County Coordinated Entry Release of Information and will send it out for review
  • Special outreach will take place to bring in the Springfield Veterans Services Office (which is facing staffing challenges at the moment)
  • Hampden County veteran providers will try to attend the next REACH meeting on April 21, 2 pm, Friends of the Homeless, 755 Worthington Street, Springfield

Next meeting: Friday, May 8, 9 am – 10:30 am, Springfield location to be determined

Note: We agreed that in view of the excellent turn-out at this meeting that included many new veteran providers from Springfield, Holyoke and Westfield we would have our next meeting in Springfield as well and then consider alternating locations between Northampton and Springfield. Our Northampton based partners were very amenable to this approach!

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