Hundreds flocked to the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum Annex last week, to take part in the 2013 Project Homeless Connect/VA Stand Down.
Sponsored by the City of Winston-Salem, Mayor Allen Joines and the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, in conjunction with other partners, the annual event offers a one-stop shop where veterans and members of the local homeless community can gain access to a wide variety of programs and services in one day.
Service providers on hand at the event included legal professionals, victims’ advocates, medical and dental care and substance abuse treatment counselors.
City native James Brewton knows firsthand how important substance abuse recovery is in getting – and staying – off the streets. Brewton, a resident at Samaritan Ministries homeless shelter, said he joined Samaritan’s Project Cornerstone substance abuse recovery program seven months ago because he was ready to make a real change in his life. The 44 year-old said he lost two businesses to alcoholism, which has plagued him for nearly 30 years.
“I’ve done traveled, relocated everywhere trying to change my lifestyle but it never changed,” he admitted. “I got tired of doing the same thing over and over again, building myself up and crashing. That’s what took most of my businesses – alcohol.”
Before getting clean and sober, Brewton says he never would have imagined that he would find himself at Project Homeless Connect, but these days Brewton says he’s willing to accept help when it comes and keep his options for the future open.
“This is my first time,” he said of the event. “I think it’s great – it had a lot of nice vendors out there addressing a lot of good issues.”
Fifty year-old Eddie Jordan wore a smile big enough to match his towering frame. Times have been tough, said the former fireman, but last week, he was content ambling around the annex, perusing the various programs and services that were on display and exchanging pleasantries with friends and fellow Samaritan residents. Jordan, who has more than a year of sobriety under his belt, said he appreciated not only the event itself, but the sentiment it represents, the passion local service providers have for helping people like him get a second chance at life.
“I love it. I think it’ll help a lot of people,” he declared. “It makes me feel good. I know a lot of other cities are not as fortunate as Winston to have something like this.”
This year’s event came on the heels of news that local partners are moving more people than ever from homelessness to permanent housing.
“When you’re looking at the matrix of numbers, they’re getting out of the shelter faster – they are staying homeless for less time, and that has always been the goal,” said Andrea Kurtz, senior director of Housing Strategies for the United Way.
In addition to providing some much needed services, Project Homeless Connect/VA Stand Down offers a rare opportunity for members of the local homeless community to be appreciated and catered to, Kurtz said.
“When I see people on the streets and they’re homeless, they always look really sad, but people here today have been really engaged and relaxed – they’ve been smiling,” she remarked. “It’s really nice to see.”