Posts Tagged ‘Alston Wilkes’

Healthcare for Homeless Veteran’s: Good program, poor execution(at least in the southeast region).

February 25, 2012

This is a program near and dear to my heart.  It can be good if it were functionally administered which it’s not.  At least in the southeastern Veteran’s Administration region it’s not functionally administered.  Rumor has it from various sources that the director for the southeastern region is under investigation over her handling of the money involved in this program.  More on that later.  Let me tell this as it played out.

Back in 2007 during one of my times homeless, I ran into a counselor for the Veteran’s Administration what I assumed was new program called Healthcare for Homeless Vets program in a local feed.  We’d talked and I finally broke down about three weeks later and put my name on the dotted line of the so-called required contractual agreement for the program.  At that time I was not what you’d call mentally stable.  I’d been on the street almost a year in a town I didn’t know all that well and with only a few friends.

Let me explain the program as simply as I can here.  HCHV (as I’ll refer to it from here out) was designed to help homeless veterans to transition from the street into a job (not necessarily the best but still) and living on his own again.  You could not be an alcoholic or drug abuser.  Those people were referred to substance abuse programs before they were admitted to HCHV.  This program was set up to provide veteran’s a place to live off the street, food to eat, and help getting employment.  This doesn’t mention healthcare for service related issues as well as others.  Though those services were included.  The program was designed to last up to two years.  What isn’t told the veteran before or after signing the contract is that he has supported housing for no greater than 6 months.  Now’s where things get sticky.

I was placed in a transitional home called Alston Wilkes.  This belongs to an organization of the same name and they work in concert with Veteran’s Administration.  Here I stayed for 7 months (Yes it was one month beyond what the contract stated).  During my time there, I was not only expected to but by contract had to turn over 10% of any income I had while in the facility for upkeep and repair of said facility.  Sound suspicious?  It didn’t bother me then but after finding out what has been going on via the rumor mill, I’m very suspicious now.

Getting back to my story.  When I first entered Alston Wilkes, I basically had not much more than the clothing on my back.  I was assigned a duty which I had to perform on a daily basis for the upkeep of the household.  It wasn’t much but still.  You’re suppose to be looking for work and any time out of that is wasted.  I was provided a meal ticked for Richland Memorial Hospital cafeteria (I think at the time it was good for roughly one meal a day at $5) and you know how hospital cafeteria’s are on costs and decent food.  Twice a week, we’d get a home cooked meal albeit not what I’d call the best but much better than what was fed at the local shelters.  We had all the snacks we could want of course (snacks consisted of stuff from the local food bank, local grocery stores, and other donations.  Not necessarily the best things to eat but it would still put weight on when you needed to gain it.

It took me a month to get employed and only via a minimum wage job with Goodwill through V.A.  I worked that for approximately a month or two till I took a job with Kmart Corporation.  It was for a few dollars more per hour.  Next came a job with Sam’s Club at a rate at which I could pretty much afford to move out of Alston Wilkes.  During my time with Kmart I also took on a contract job for computer part replacement.  All the while I was doing what I had to at Alston Wilkes while continually improving my own self.  With all this, I managed to squirrel away about $3K in money in the bank.  I still didn’t have everything resolved but they decided to kick me out of Alston Wilkes saying I was a great example.  Little did they know I’d get some bad news 8 months later and be on the street again after a long trip back to Michigan to visit my mom and back.

Not all my needs were dealt with in the program and I feel used and abused through it.  What actually happened to the 10% of my wages meant for the upkeep of the Alston Wilkes building, I’m unsure.  I do know that the program manager at the time at Alston Wilkes was trying to get my stay there extended so I could help others out as well as get my own VA necessities finished.

If there had been a halfway house available (run by Alston Wilkes) at the time, I’d have been offered it.  Alas, I ended up in an extended stay motel and there I stayed till I left for Michigan.   Yeah it was costly but I didn’t have to sign any lease forms and it’s a good thing I was there instead of in an apartment.  My credit is bad enough without having being thrown out of an apartment.

A couple of other things, I was required to do while under than contract and living in Alston Wilkes were in my mind wasteful of time in one instance and good in another.  One thing was a weekly meeting with a HCHV counselor where I was asked how I was doing, had I found employment, and is there anything I needed help with.  What I should have done back then was to tell the counselor (often times these sessions were taken by students and not the people working as actual counselors) that the meetings were an aggravating waste of time.  It often took an entire day to get the meeting done.  Even after I scheduled them around work I was often in Building 106 at the Dorn Veteran’s Administration site for more than two hours or more for this meeting which lasted only 15 to 20 minutes.  Of course there were other things I wanted to say to them like “How come I’m doing all the leg work and not getting any assistance other than housing and food?”  This was one of my key concerns.  The other thing was a twice a week meeting at Alston Wilkes for the entire house occupants.  It was meant to address any issues with the residents or other matters involving the house.  It was mostly a farce.  The longest that meeting went while I was there was about 20 minutes.

It seems to me, that there were far too many counselors justifying their jobs while not truly helping the veterans in the program out.  And if you missed any of the what they deemed crucial meetings, you stood the possibility of being kicked out of the program.  No drugs or alcohol while in the program either unless they were prescription.  But your weekly meeting had to be met no matter what you had to do to attend.  Work or employment search or interview was no exception to the hard rule of the weekly meetings.  The use of student counselors should have been a no no here but wasn’t.  If anything they were used far more than not while the actual counselors got away with doing exactly what they wanted when they wanted on your tax payer dollars not to mention medical school tuition as well as program dollars.

Those counselors that actually saw their people or those that saw them only occasionally did NOT provide job leads.  They did NOT attempt to help the veteran obtain further job training.  Granted there was access to job training but again the veteran had to do the leg work.  Alston Wilkes did more in the way of providing job leads than the V.A. counselors.  From what I heard from a few people in the program while I was in and some even after I got out, one such counselor berated the people under her charge.  Maybe they deserved it.  I’m not sure.  Either way, the job the counselors supposedly did was a gross misuse of government funding.  I’m unsure how much was spent keeping Alston Wilkes in federal funding.

Again, I’d heard through the rumor mill that the director of this program for the state (later promoted to area director) was under investigation for fraudulent use of government funds and other things involving money.  I’ve not had this substantiated.  However, I’d tend to believe just this considering the quality of care given to the veteran who openly walked into the program.  Yes, what is in parenthesis early in this paragraph is true.  This person who from all known sources is under investigation is under investigation.  Typical government.  Promote those that screw up and not those that are efficient and get the job done.

As for Alston Wilkes, I’ve been back there and haven’t liked what I’ve seen.  I know the current director there (the last director retired for multiple reasons).  He’s a nice enough guy.  However, like the director of HCHV, I’m very suspicious of him and his motives.  Funny thing is now that I’m homeless again, he wants me back in the program.  NOT.

I was there seven months.  Did what was required of me.  I even gave back to Alston Wilkes by setting up a wireless network (I donated the router $100) for them to have Internet to look for work and take care of necessary paperwork [(i.e. prison records and the such) (yes there were people with prison records at the shelter who were also veterans)].  That network is no longer as of my last visit there it was dismantled and it’s set up completely different.  I refuse to go back to that place anymore even for a visit.

Will I re-enter this program?  Not in the southeastern region.  It smells of corruption.  When I leave here I’m heading southwest for my health.  Maybe, just maybe I’ll try the program out again out there.  It’s been almost 5 years since I left the program.  As far as I’ve heard there are still some issues with the program.  Some of the counselors are still there drawing a paycheck and doing little or nothing.  Alston Wilkes is still tied in and running.  Will the corruption end?  Doubtful in this area.  Would I recommend the program?  That would have to be up to the individual.  For me it failed miserably.  I’m pretty much back where I started and going no where fast.