Good News from Washington, DC
Many Veterans echo the sentiment that their military experience helped them develop important skills that they now apply in their civilian lives.
Today, a year after getting permanent housing and getting out of homelessness, Michael Horton – a Marine Corps Veteran and the Director of Business Development for the National Association of Concerned Veterans (NACV) – is passionate about helping other Veterans who encounter challenges in transitioning to civilian life. “If it wasn’t for my service I can’t imagine where I would be, and now that I am where I’m at and understanding the challenge not only for me but for other Veterans, [helping Veterans] is my passion and purpose,” he said. “That’s why I’m working with NACV now.”
Erica Myrtle-Holmes, Horton’s case manager at the Washington, DC VA Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC), recalled that Horton demonstrated this passion long before he transitioned out of homelessness. “He was very helpful with new Veterans who were coming in [to the CRRC] that were newly homeless,” she said. “He really took them under his wing.”
Horton joined the Marine Corps in 1975 and served four years of active duty before transitioning to the private sector. He also served in the National Guard until 1992. He had a successful career in telecommunications for more than twenty years before his company encountered financial troubles and he lost his job. “I eventually lost my home, lost my marriage,” he said. “It’s a spiral type thing.”
Horton said he didn’t seek VA services until he became homeless. “I was in the private sector so I never reached out,” he said. “It wasn’t until I found myself completely upside down homeless…that talking to my sister, she’s a Vet also, she said, ‘Michael, go down to VA hospital.’ I’m in the hospital, in 15 minutes I’m in the system.”
Horton was matched with housing through the Department of Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, a joint effort between HUD and VA to move chronically homeless Veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing. A chronically homeless individual is someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years and has a disability. Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program work with case managers and utilize supportive services to ensure that they successfully maintain recovery and sustain housing. HUD-VASH is one program available within the District of Columbia’s Coordinated Entry system, which streamlines access to homeless assistance services such as rapid re-housing. The DC Metro region has continued to enhance this system through the 25 Cities Effort, placing 535 Veterans between August 9, 2013 and August 31, 2014.
Garnet Nelson, Clinical Contract Coordinator for Health Care for Homeless Veterans at the Washington, DC VA Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) and member of the DC 25 Cities Effort’s Design Team, described how the 25 Cities Effort has helped service providers improve their existing efforts to address Veteran homelessness. “DC was already working in the Veteran coordinated entry that snowballed into the bigger system coordinated entry, and then came the 25 Cities Effort. It evolved into a broader spectrum, and it really has allowed us to do our jobs more methodically and consistently,” she said. “This whole process has allowed us to be very transparent and to build stronger community efforts around housing homeless Veterans.”
Horton said he worked hard to better his situation while he was living in homeless shelters, but that having a home has made it easier to reach his goals. “Everything when you’re homeless, what seems to be so simple, it’s that much more challenging,” he said.
“Since he’s been in an apartment, going back to school and doing other business ventures and applying for jobs—all of that’s a lot easier when you have an actual address,” said Myrtle-Holmes. “Those things were very important to him prior to him even getting his apartment. He’s pretty much a go-getter—very motivated to do something with his life and turn things around for himself.”
In addition to his educational and professional ambitions, Horton said one of his main goals is to reestablish his relationships with family members. “I have three sons, a daughter and five grandkids,” he said. “I’ll know that I’m where I need to be once they’re back in my life on a regular basis.”
Horton said that he was able to furnish his apartment with the aid of organizations such as A Wider Circle, which provides furniture and home goods to individuals exiting homelessness.
Myrtle-Holmes said that her experience as an army Veteran contributes to her motivation to help Veterans like Horton transition out of homelessness permanently. “I feel like they deserve the best,” she said. “I understand what it is to not only be a Veteran but to struggle on your own, so I just try to work very hard.”
This piece was written by the Communications Team at Atlas Research, a partner in the 25 Cities Effort. The team was honored to learn about this story through interviews with Mr. Horton, Ms. Myrtle-Holmes, and other members of the Washington, DC 25 Cities Team.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), launched the 25 Cities Effort in March 2014. The 25 Cities Effort is a key Federal strategy through which 25 communities, including Washington, DC, are receiving technical assistance and are mobilizing local planning efforts and partnerships to create effective systems for aligning housing and services interventions through coordinated systems to end homelessness. Led by VA, in partnership with HUD and USICH, the aim of this effort is to assist 25 communities in accelerating and aligning their existing efforts toward the creation of coordinated assessment and entry systems, laying the foundation for ending all homelessness in these communities.