New Castle News

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May 28, 2013

‘Invisible’ veterans to be seen on PBS this fall

NEW CASTLE — They’re called invisible but there are more than 280 of them in the immediate area.

 “They” are the homeless people who live under bridges and in woodland campsites of the nation. Many are veterans. Some of the veterans have mental health issues.

“People don’t want to think about them except that they don’t want them in their neighborhood,” said Sandi Hause, executive director of Patches Place. The agency deals with people who have mental health issues. Many of them are homeless; many of the homeless clients are veterans.

Hause and her “family of clients” at the facility at 217 N. Mill St. were visited last week by Lou Cordera and Don Wright of CortronMedia. The Pittsburgh-based production company is filming a documentary on veterans. Their product, to be shown on PBS, is expected to air this fall.

The hour-long program, “Was it worth it for me?” examines issues faced by veterans and asks if services provided through the Veteran’s Administration are having any impact and if veterans are getting any benefit from them.

The segment filmed in New Castle deals with homelessness and features Ron Christopher, a former homeless veteran who is now a peer specialist on homelessness support with the Veteran’s Administration.

“I was homeless for 20 years,” Christopher said.

Other issues to be included in the documentary include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, employment, challenges that disabled rural veterans face to obtain medical treatment and counseling and a program by the justice system which offers a second chance to veterans charged with non-violent crimes. Other veterans will be featured on those segments.

“We’re still shooting and lining up vets,” Wright said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get people to talk.”

In addition to airing on PBS, he said, segments of the production can be used as “stand alone” videos by VA speakers, and viewed online.

In the past four years, Cordera and Wright said they have produced about a dozen 30-second public service spots to draw attention to veterans’ problems.

“You hear about people living in doorways and under bridges,” said Dan Slack, homeless programs coordinator with the VA Department of Veteran Affairs. “Here they also live in the woods. Everybody knows they are there but it is as if they are invisible. People don’t know anything about them.”

Based at the Butler VA, Slack said he has worked with homeless veterans for about 12 years, developing programs and working with communities through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development/Veterans Affairs Supported Housing, a rent-subsidized program similar to Section 8 housing. The program, Slack said, gets veterans off the streets and into emergency, temporary and permanent housing.

He said he focuses on the “chronically homeless” who have been without shelter for one year or who have at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

“We’re seeing a difference with this and other issues,” he said, adding, “But it hasn’t been easy.”

The portion of the documentary filmed here follows Christopher to Patches Place to ask about finding housing for veterans and to the Robin’s Nest campsite where veterans and others live in tents in the woods.

“I ask veterans who I meet if they received services and if the services made a difference in their lives,” he said.

Christopher said he learned of VA programs through his older brother, also a veteran.

“He told me the VA was helping him to get through some of his issues and suggested that I see what they could do for me.”

VA counselors, he said, helped him through his alcoholism and to get a job, and got him off the streets and into transitional housing. He has been sober for six years

“When I lost my job and was about to become homeless again, I went back to the VA. Dan (Slack) helped me to find housing. Now I work with the VA, helping veterans.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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