By Michelle Spivak, VHA Office of Communications
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Michael A. Williams had a bedtime ritual. Each evening he would go through a mental scorecard, a placeholder for his life. This was a very personal scorecard, each item a valued life goal: Get my health issues addressed, particularly my pain management. Own my own home. Nurture family and friend relationships, especially with my mom. Get my financial house in order. Make peace with the Lord.
Insight, intellect, sensitivity, goal oriented, grounded – Michael has all of the qualities one admires and looks for in trusted friends and employees. You might be surprised to learn Michael developed all of those outstanding and admirable qualities while living on the streets.
Homeless for three years, Michael has now checked off every item on his scorecard: Conquer alcoholism. Check. Overcome serious health issues. Check. Regain trust and respect of family and friends. Check. Get a job. Check. Buy a house. Check. Come to Jesus. Check.
“It has been a long ride and I am so happy and grateful for this opportunity.”
Michael is one of thousands of Veterans whose lives have turned around due to VA initiatives for homeless Veterans, particularly the Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program and the Housing First program. Buried in the back pages of your newspaper and given modest attention by web and social media outlets, the story of VA’s undeniable success in housing homeless Veterans and supporting them in living independent lives is one of our country’s most encouraging societal turnarounds both inside and outside of government.
Since President Obama’s initiative to end homelessness was launched in 2010, VA and its partners at federal, state and local levels have cut the number of homeless Veterans by half. And although homeless numbers will always be a moving target, some major cities such as Philadelphia, Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Mobile report they no longer have homeless Veterans sleeping on their streets. As of December 2015, Connecticut and Virginia have reported an end to Veteran homelessness in their communities.
The impact of VA’s success in reducing drug and alcohol dependency, housing, and re-training Veterans for work [SP1] impacts all of us. Not only does it heal broken souls and families, it potentially makes our streets safer and lowers taxpayers’ outlays as these Veterans become reemployed and contribute to our economy. It’s something we are doing right and the fulfillment of an obligation to Veterans we all recognize.
Overcame a series of health crises
After 12-plus years in the U.S. Marines, a series of health crises led Michael to joblessness, despair and drink.
“As a homeless Veteran I wanted a lot of the things that I thought everyone else had,” he said. “I mean things like respect, responsibility, happiness, independence, employment and a place to live. I was in search of security and some sort of dignity in my life.”
The VA’s Housing First and CWT programs gave Michael that opportunity. Housing First is a new philosophy in treating homelessness. In the past, in order to secure permanent housing, homeless Veterans had to demonstrate they were clean of drugs, psychologically competent, and had some source of income to supplement their housing. Now, the stable home comes first and the medical treatment and job training follows. In Michael’s case, after securing a transitional apartment through the Housing First program, he participated in VA’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) and the CWT employment preparation program at the Washington DC VA Medical Center.
At the VA Medical Center, Michael found himself. He proved he could get to work on time, manage projects, get along with other staff members and achieve both job and personal goals. His confidence grew and so did his determination to get his scorecard completed.
On October 9, 2012, Michael was hired by VA as a full-time Program Support Specialist. Four years later, he moved into his own home, fulfilling a promise to his mother that he would take care of her in her senior years. “It has been a long ride and I am so happy and grateful for this opportunity,” says Michael.
If you know a homeless Veteran, or one at risk for homelessness, please visit www.va.gov/homeless to learn about VA programs that could help.