Program helping homeless veterans regain lives

For Wayne Christie, being homeless dragged on for years, a dozen of them, as he camped and survived in the woods, alone.

“I’d go fishing and I’d spend my days away, then go back to the camp. I’d cook something up on the fire, on the grill. I did a lot of reading, a lot of meditating. It got lonely sometimes,” the 64-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran said.

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A melanoma patient, Christie ended up in the hospital. There, he learned about help for homeless veterans through the HUD-VASH program.

A partnership of Housing and Urban Development, known as HUD, and Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing, abbreviated as VASH, the program began in 2008 and is federally funded, explained Chris Buser , chief of social work for the Veterans’ Affairs Medical Health Care  System, based Baltimore.

Homeless veterans receive vouchers to help them pay for housing.

There are 800 vouchers within the Maryland VA Health Care System.  Typically, Buser said, HUD pays about 70 percent of rent and the VA provides close to 30 percent, depending on need.

Veterans remain in the housing permanently. They receive sobriety help, job training and case management and get vouchers for life. Those who need help can call 877-424-3838 or, locally, 443-252-0649.

“This is a great benefit for society,” Buser said.

“The homeless have a place to stay. They are in shelters where they also get case management and other help if they need it, and they can work on vocational goals. The third stage is HUD-VASH,” he said.

The program was a godsend for U.S. Army veteran Bryan Reynolds, who served from 1977 to 1985

The 56-year-old became homeless after losing the retail job he transferred to Maryland for. “Things didn’t go well and I became unemployed,” he told the Independent.

He and his wife, with their five children, had no home for about six months and lived in shelters and motels before getting help from HUD-VASH.

“After I lost my job in Baltimore I became stressed,” Reynolds said.

“I had never been unemployed.  I was trying to take care of my family but I couldn’t get services we needed quick enough. I was dealing with a lot. Because we have five children – they are now 4 to 18 — the shelters didn’t always have room for everybody,” he said.

Now the family is together in a home with a yard big enough for the family.

Reynolds is  going to study hotel-motel-restaurant management at Wor-Wic Community College.

“If it wasn’t for this program, I’m pretty sure our family would have been broken apart. We probably would have been homeless and still on the street and maybe into drinking and drugging,” Reynolds said.

“It took a toll on me, my wife and my kids. My wife, it affected her as much as it affected me. She had never seen us, myself, in the situation I was in. It was really hard for her to deal with. But being in the military you learn to never give up,” he said.

For fellow veteran Christie, a carpenter before losing his vehicle and tools in a divorce, social interaction was in the form of friends he made at church during his homeless years.

“I’d go to AA meetings. I had a substance abuse problem about 40 years … I never could get off the sauce and drugs and it kept on going for awhile,” he said.

“At first it was kind of hard being homeless but then after the years went by I started getting comfortable out there. I just shunned everything else. I refused to go with other homeless guys on the streets. You can’t trust a lot of them,” he said.

Now, thanks to HUD-VASH, he’s living near the zoo in Salisbury, still “trying to adjust to four walls,” he said.

“I don’t get paid very much. That’s where the HUD voucher comes in. It pays the majority of rent. My biggest expense is utilities,” Christie said.

“But things are looking all right. Everything’s cool, man.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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