The main outreach and service provider for homeless veterans in the Valley, the Community Resource and Referral Center, recently moved out of its small office in the downtown Phoenix Lodestar Day Resource Center to a much larger and newly renovated facility. It’s a move that directors say will allow the CRRC to better meet the needs of more homeless veterans in the area — particularly women (there's been a sharp spike in female veterans showing up for services since the relocation).
The new center is in an office building on East Thomas Road and 12th Street, and it sits halfway between the main Veteran Affairs hospital and the Human Services Campus. A free shuttle is available for clients who need help getting from any one of these three centers to another throughout the day, and it makes extra rounds around noon so people can take advantage of the free lunch offered at St. Vincent de Paul on the Human Services Campus.
“In a nutshell, the CRRC is a ‘one-stop shop’ for homeless veterans — or those in precarious housing situations — to access community and VA resources,” says Jean Schaefer, Public Affairs Officer for the Phoenix VA system.
The Phoenix CRRC is one of 17 centers around the country affiliated with the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans and 25 Cities Initiative to end veteran homelessness, and works to connect people with housing and employment services, or with places people in temporary/transitional shelter beds
The center also has specialists on site to help clients navigate the complicated federal benefit paperwork processes, or to match people with case managers if need be. And through the Homeless-Patient Care Alignment Team, another federal VA program, better known as H-PACT, CRRC clients can receive emergency and primary medical services or behavioral health screening from on-site nurse practitioners and social workers. (Clients needing more serious or longer-term care are referred to the main VA hospital.)
The goal of the center, explains its coordinator, Melissa Meierdierks, is to help match veterans with whatever sort of care and assistance they need “by putting as many resources as possible under one roof” or finding the “right community partners and bringing them in here to help a vet.”
The Center itself isn’t something new, but the number and quality of services it can now provide in the new location is a huge step forward.
Instead of a small office and a few private rooms like in its previous location, this facility has an entire hallway lined with bright rooms for its 22 staff members and community partners to use for client meetings, a computer lab so people can work on resumes or search for jobs, and a conference room that looks like it could accommodate at least 20 individuals for group meetings or free community classes.
As for medical services, there are three exam rooms, a nurse triage room, and an entire room devoted to OBGYN care and women’s health is in the works.
“We’re definitely getting more women now, and we want to fulfill their needs here so that we don’t necessarily have to refer them to the VA hospital’s women’s clinic,” explains the head nurse practitioner.
A lot of clients haven’t had any medical services for years, sometimes decades, so a full lab for does blood work and other basic tests, and medical professionals are in the process of procuring equipment so they can do EKGs.
As part of the mission to be more women- and family-friendly, there are two separate waiting rooms — one for singles and one for women and families. In fact, explains Meierdierks, one of the most exciting things seen in the few weeks the new facility's been open is a spike in the number of female veterans who have come in for services.
“We get a lot of feedback that people feel more relaxed and safe,” she says, adding that meeting the needs of families has certainly become a lot less complicated — children are barred from the Human Services Campus for safety reasons. So in the past, creative workarounds had to be done if a family that needed help presented itself.
“From the moment someone walks into the center, we do a constant triage to see what the vet needs, and then work with the resources we have, or find a community partner and bring them in, to meet that need,” Meierdierks says.
“We’re really fluid in our collaborations, which is why [Phoenix] is one of the country’s leaders in ending chronic veteran homeless,” says Michael Leon, chief of social work for the Phoenix VA system. “It can be hard when you do all of these things for homeless vets and all we’re known for is last year,” he adds, referring the VA Scandal in which it was discovered that medical records were purposefully manipulated, and dozens of patients died while waiting for care.
The CRRC has been recognized for its good work. Meierdierks and her team have been recognized on a national level and had some of their initiatives declared best practices for similar centers around the country. (Meierdierks and Brad Bridwell, program director for a veteran assisted living housing program in Phoenix called Cloudbreak Communities, received the VA Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service to Homeless Veterans in 2011.)
Anthony Irby, homeless veteran outreach coordinator for the CRRC, says it’s really exciting to have so much space and the ability to expand programs and services the center can provide: “When we started 10 years ago, we were in a small closet at the VA hospital, then we moved to the [Human Services Campus], and now we have this.”.
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The CRRC has been in this new location for a few weeks now – the official ribbon cutting ceremony will occur later this summer once all of the renovations are done — and every day 40 to 45 walk-in clients and a handful of families come in for services.
“We’re thinking about starting up a free class about building credit [and about] bringing in a Social Security representative,” Meierdierks says. And in a few weeks, launch is planned of a monthly nutrition class specifically catered to how individuals can eat a healthy diet on less than $200 a month, and what foods at soup kitchens are good or should be avoided for different health concerns, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. (The organization has partnered with a nutritionist from the VA hospital who spent time in various free-meal centers around the city to get an accurate understanding of what foods are served.)
Meierdierks explains that like many homeless men and women around the country, many clients who come through the CRRC doors are distrustful, and many have had bad experiences with a VA hospital or other programs. She says that’s why the center’s goal is not only to link people with services and assistance but “to build trust and [do it all] in a safe and dignified environment.”
The CRRC is open 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
1500 East Thomas Road, Suite 106 (located in back of building)
National Homeless Call Center 1-877-424-3838