By Shanna Reece, Executive Director of The Servant Center
As I walk into Servant House and see a shelter full of veterans experiencing homelessness and think to myself, how can this be? How can these American heroes have nowhere to live? While everyone’s story is different and while most veterans do not have PTSD, a study by Yale reports that the vast majority of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD. This is primarily attributed to multiple deployments. Those that suffer from PTSD have difficulty building and maintaining relationships, as well as keeping jobs. That, in addition to the stigma of mental illness in general, often keeps veterans from seeking needed services. One veteran explained it this way “I believe the reason for many veterans’ reluctance to receive help, on the internet or in the office has to do with the inherent denial of PTSD coupled with the stigma attached. We survived the most intense environment that a human can endure; combat, killing and mayhem. How can we succumb to an unseen foe? Unimaginable and enduring ghosts that chase us unrelentingly, a perfect machination for denial.” (PTSD: A Soldier’s Perspective)
The impact of undiagnosed and/or untreated PTSD can be devastating. Dr. Michele Spoont, a clinical and research psychologist at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System reports that “they are more likely to have failed marriages, be indigent, and have a number of medical problems. It’s one of those things that cascades over time. You lose your job. Your marriage falls apart, and it just accumulates.” And, yes some become homeless.
The Servant Center is here to help those veterans who have fallen onto hard times. The Servant Center is a nonprofit agency in Greensboro, N.C. whose mission is to empower the homeless and disabled, particularly veterans, to become independent, contributing members of our community through housing, healthcare and restorative services. The Servant Center has been working with veterans with mental health and medical disabilities for 25 years in a variety of capacities. First, The Servant Center operates a 21-bed respite program, called Servant House, for veterans experiencing homelessness that have significant mental health and or physical disabilities. The program provides for their basic needs such as housing, food and transportation; but also provides services that are designed to increase their ability to live independently. Nursing staff help resident stabilize medically by helping to schedule medical and mental health appointments, educating them on their conditions, instructing them on how to take their medications and providing crisis response to medical emergencies. The Case Management staff focus on helping the veterans access VA benefits or SSI/SSDI benefits; as well as finding and securing permanent housing. In addition, The Servant Center has two permanent supportive housing units with 17 apartments targeted to veterans from Servant House with disabilities that are experiencing homelessness. Case Management staff is available 5 days a week to help them overcome obstacles to maintaining permanent housing.
More than 90% of veterans who are in the Servant House program transition to permanent housing. One of the key reasons the Servant House program is so successful is that social support from other veterans is built into the program. Many of the veterans served at Servant House have burnt bridges over time due to behavioral or substance abuse issues linked to their PTSD or other mental illnesses and therefore have a shallow social support system. An article in VA Research Trends (April 24, 2014) talks about how important social support is to successful treatment. Spoont says “If someone is having problems, the first thing they tend to do is go to their peer group for advice. We wondered how much effect the response of that network would be, and, as it turned out, the influence factor was extremely high.”
Now I walk through Servant House and see these American heroes who have an opportunity for a second chance.
However, we cannot do it alone, we rely upon the community to help provide these opportunities – we need volunteers and donors who will partner with us to provide those second chances. If you are interested in helping us, please contact Stacey Kyser at 336-275-8585 x 304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shanna Reece has spent the last 20+ years serving non-profit and government agencies throughout Greensboro, North Carolina. She has assisted these entities with program development, implementation and analysis of needs assessments, program evaluation, partnership development and grant writing. Currently, Shanna serves as the Executive Director of The Servant Center where she oversees five programs, is the co-Chair of the Stand Down Committee, a co-founder of the Triad Veterans Coalition, serves as Board member for Partners Ending Homelessness and serves on the Nonprofit Management Advisory Board for UNCG’s MPA program. In addition, she is on the Homeless Steering Committee for the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program at the Salisbury VA. Shanna lives in Greensboro, NC with her husband and 16-year-old daughter Reagan, who aspires to be a Nurse. Her son Wilson is a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune.