Washington DC VA Medical Center
On a cold Saturday in January, hundreds of staff members, volunteers and community partners would come together for a major annual outreach event to offer services and resources to homeless and at-risk Veterans. The Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down has always been a much-anticipated event for the many Veterans who participate. Historically, the day-long event offered health screenings, housing and employment counseling, substance abuse counseling, psychosocial services, dental exams, HIV testing, haircuts, warm clothing, boots and shoes and much more.
Then in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and all major outreach events were put on hold per CDC and VA guidance.
The medical center’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) team refused to let the Winterhaven tradition completely lapse. They collaborated and devised a safe way to help homeless and at-risk Veterans. The team packed and delivered VA back packs filled with useful items including hygiene products, undergarments, hats, gloves, socks, masks and hand sanitizer. Throughout the month of December, the team also distributed gift boxes with comfort items, winter coats and food.
According to HCHV Coordinator Kevin Morton, the team dubbed the donation distribution project “Winterhaven Lite”.
“For safety’s sake, we couldn’t request help from volunteers, so our team consisted of DC VAMC staff members from HCHV and Voluntary Service as well as local transitional housing staff,” said Morton.
By month’s end the small team had helped 248 DC-area Veterans have a better holiday season and a warmer winter. The items were donated to Veterans who reside in housing provided by Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), transitional housing, local shelters and on the streets.
The donations were made possible by the generous support of the medical center’s community partners such as: American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary, AMVETS, The American Red Cross, Cheeriodical, Soldiers’ Angels, and I Support the Girls, Black In Government, Pros Fore Clothing Foundation, Blankets4Vets, Masonic Service Association and many others.
While “Winterhaven Lite” has officially ended, the team continues to provide Veterans with winter clothing and other items as needed.
The HCHV team is located in the medical center’s VA Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) in Northeast Washington, D.C. Currently, due to the pandemic, the team is operating virtually and offering telehealth and phone appointments.
Veterans in need of assistance may call the CRRC, 202-745-3012, for an appointment. To learn more about services for homeless and at-risk Veterans, please visit: https://www.washingtondc.va.gov/locations/Community_Resource_and_Referral_Center_CRRC.asp