WNY HCHV Story - VA Homeless Programs
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A Program Success Story in Ending Veteran Homelessness

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Western New York VA Health Care System Team

The Western New York Health Care for Homeless Veterans Team, from left to right: Sean Lindstrom, Sara Coffey, Kristen Weese and Patrick Costello.

Reaching Beyond the Border to Bring a Veteran Home
Western New York Health Care for Homeless Veterans Team’s Story  |  Feb. 24, 2016

The Challenge

When the Missouri Veteran ventured to Toronto, he never imagined he would become stranded there. Lacking funds for housing or transport back to the United States, he faced imminent homelessness.

His VA caseworkers needed to bring the Veteran home quickly, but the now-international situation was as sticky as maple syrup. Seeking a solution, Blake Witter—a Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing coordinator with the Columbia (Missouri) VA Medical Center—phoned VA staff in Western New York, which shares a border with Eastern Canada.

The Fix

That was the right call to make. Staff with the Western New York VA Health Care System (WNY HCS) had already met with Toronto’s U.S. Consulate General to discuss how to handle this very scenario. And so when she received Witter’s call, Kristen Weese knew just what to do.

The Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) program manager first called her consulate contact Ted Arzadon, who expedited a passport and bus ticket to get the Veteran to Buffalo, en route to Columbia, Missouri. The Veteran’s Canadian hosts also gave him money for meals during his travel.

Within a week, the Veteran arrived safely in Buffalo, only to be stuck again—this time stateside, as a snowstorm loomed, shuttering transportation service in and out of the city.

Undaunted, Ms. Weese obtained approval from Royce Calhoun, WNY VA Interim Associate Medical Director, to secure the Veteran hotel lodging for the night so he could safely wait out the blizzard. Her VA HCHV team—Patrick Costello, program support assistant; Sara Coffey, social worker; and Sean Lindstrom, community employment coordinator—updated his itinerary and secured food assistance for the final leg of his trip home.

The Result

The next day, the Veteran was escorted to the WNY HCS drop-in center for a hot lunch and meal gift cards.

He thanked the Western New York VA for getting him back to the United States, proudly wearing the souvenir Buffalo Bills cap and lanyard that commemorated his bilateral expedition.

So positive was his experience, in fact, that the Veteran has opted to stay in Western New York, where, thanks to the VA team, he now has a job.

“Buffalo,” the Veteran said, “really knows how to treat Veterans.”

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