Forward Observer — Lehigh Valley VA Homelessness Summit Needs More Community Involvement
On 28 September, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center (VAMC) is holding a Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG) Meeting and Summit at the Charles Chrin Community Center of Palmer Township (Gym II).
While there has been a long history of annual CHALENG meetings, holding one in the Lehigh Valley has been a rarity. Considering the recent efforts of the Lehigh Valley Regional Homelessness Advisory Board (LVRHAB), the time has come to encourage such meetings locally if the VA is to be a true partner in this region’s homeless efforts – and not off to the side.
Because a summit implies the meeting of leaders, LVMAC is reaching out to various organizations (police departments, school districts, public housing authorities, special social work agencies, county and city governments, for example) to have a key officer or “mover and shaker” attend. It wishes to encourage more collaborations and the integration of efforts between programs directly or peripherally involved with homelessness – and for these programs to provide constructive feedback to one of the major federal agencies involved in the plight of the homeless, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Our observation has been the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) capabilities and constraints are not well known to the community’s social work agencies and more local VA involvement with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) efforts would be beneficial to all concerned.
In the past, the VHA has tended to emphasize the attendance of its working partners, or contractors, and county offices of veterans affairs. In this area, these are few. With the appointment of Secretary MacDonald and the introduction of MyVA, the VA’s intention is to more effectively collaborate with communities in ways unheard but a few years ago. Accordingly, the Wilkes-Barre VAMC is making a conscientious effort to up its game at the September meeting. It needs your help, therefore.
While the theme of the Summit is “Increasing Pathways to Permanent Housing,” the agenda will include presentations on the VA’s program and organization, the Lehigh Valley Hospital Network’s new street homelessness program, the progress of the Lehigh Valley’s Homeless Veterans Task Force and the complications of achieving “functional zero” (HUD is starting a similar program), and the Veterans Justice Officers and incarcerated reentry initiatives.
We wish this not to be a one-sided summit. We are hoping a discussion will ensue on the effort to integrate the VA’s HOMES and HUD’s HMIS management and tracking databases, begun in late 2015. This would then lend itself to a discussion on the larger issue of bidirectional integration of Wilkes-Barre’s local efforts with the Lehigh Valley’s Regional Homeless Advisory Board’s drive to institute Coordinated Entry and Universal Assessment (A pilot test is expected to begin in October.). We are also hopeful the participants will to provide timely feedback on the benefits and limits of Housing First, based upon real-world experiences.
If your organization is involved in homeless efforts in the Lehigh Valley and has not been contacted by us or the VA, please email Karen Harper <Karen.Harper2@va.gov> or Thomas Gonazlez (local POC) <email@example.com> to register now.
As of 26 August 2016