On May 9th, I had the pleasure of attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Washington, DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s new Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) in Northeast DC. The CRRC offers a wide range of health care and social services to Veterans experiencing homelessness and those at-risk of homelessness. Services include a Primary Care Clinic, a complete kitchen, laundry and shower facilities, food pantry, a play room for children, and education and employment resources. The CRRC will be open 24/7 providing resources to Veterans from the District of Columbia, Southern Maryland, and Northern Virginia, though not all services will be available 24/7.
Dr. Clarence Cross, a chaplain at DC’s VAMC, captured the hope and intent for the CRRC best in the invocation when he said that it “will be greater than the sum of all its’ parts:” it is a place where Veterans and their families can access services whether they are in need of one service or many, and help them find or maintain safe and stable housing. I hope Dr. Cross is right in that putting all of these services out of one location, it will make it easier for Veterans to get all their needs met.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki provided the keynote address, describing the CRRC as a “24/7 Stand-Down” that will serve a population of individuals in the DC Metro Area that deserves all that we can offer them. The CRRC and facilities serving a similar purpose contribute to keeping Veterans off the streets and ultimately decreasing the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness across the country.
Secretary Shinseki also spoke about how what happens in Washington, DC has a wider impact. On one level, this new center will be open to Veterans from not only DC but also Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland. On another level, the DC area has a concentration of federal and local resources that can be combined to achieve important goals. The CRRC is a great example of that potential: along with federal HUD-VASH case managers and Veteran’s health care specialists, many local organizations in the areas of housing, health, and legal assistance will have a presence at the CRRC. Local organizations with offices in CRRC include America Works of Washington, DC, Woodley House, Inc., the Legal Aid Society, and Pathways to Housing. Local, regional and federal partners will be essential to maintaining the services provided by the CRRC. Due to its political structure, DC is unique, but it also faces many of the same challenges as other major metropolitan areas. DC residents and neighbors have a great capacity to pull together as a community and support those who benefit from social services. The CRRC is just one example of how they are doing just that.
Projects like the CRRC remind me that even as we set long-term, aggressive goals to end Veterans homelessness by 2015, it is important to think about all the intervening steps it takes to get there. Building services around the needs of Veterans gets us closer to the goal of ending Veterans homelessness.