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There is nothing quite like spending a few days around a group of passionate people, united in a common cause, encouraging each other along the way. That’s the best one sentence summary of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Coming Together 2022 Conference that I attended last week in Washington, D.C. I was honored to represent HVAF among our peer organizations and inspired by the dedication and enthusiasm of individuals and agencies around the country working to end veteran homelessness.
I was asked, along with Wendy McClinton from Black Veterans for Social Justice, to share a few thoughts about serving veterans during the pandemic and in the post-COVID era as part of the opening session of the conference. It was an incredible joy to share with the 650+ attendees that Team HVAF rose to the challenges presented by COVID. We never closed, never wavered in our commitment to serve veterans and despite entering our third year of the pandemic, we remain eager to serve. I believe that veterans need and deserve our very best, and I am so proud to be part of Team HVAF which continues to deliver high quality, life changing programs every single day.
After two years of virtual conferences, the NCHV conference also presented a time to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. I took a brief trip down HVAF memory lane, discussing the roots of HVAF with founder Steve Peck. Steve was instrumental in launching the Far From Home Indiana Chapter, which eventually became HVAF of Indiana. He currently runs USVETS, which provides services to homeless veterans in 11 states around the country. I also was able to visit with Steve Benz, the long-time chair of the HVAF Board of Directors and current chair of the NCHV Board of Directors. Steve was instrumental in my joining Team HVAF, and I am grateful for his incredible leadership in this space.
It was also incredible to learn from other providers about the work they are doing to better serve veterans and improve employee morale and retention during challenging times. The energy, and synergy, surrounding legislative priorities, pilot programs to improve homeless prevention, best practices in housing programs, and innovative strategies to recruit and retain talented employees was infectious. I came away with a couple marching orders:
-Urge the Indiana Congressional Delegation to cosponsor and support passage of Senate Bill 2172, the Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2021. This bill is a much-needed modernization of VA homeless programs that will allow providers to continue to be responsive to the needs of the most vulnerable veterans.
-Continue to collaborate and learn from peers in our industry. I am grateful for the friendship of Family and Community Services in northeast Ohio, and am eager to build new relationships with innovative providers like Veterans Services of the Carolinas and Veterans, Inc. in Massachusetts. It was also great to meet in person the team from the Bob Woodruff Foundation and discuss more opportunities for partnership.
-Continue to provide high quality, effective programs and services that result in life changing assistance for Hoosier veterans. As President Lincoln said, we have a duty to provide care for those “who shall have borne the battle.” HVAF is part of a robust national network of agencies dedicated to fulfilling President Lincoln’s initiative and together, we are making incredible progress.
In closing, I would like to commend Kathryn Monet and the staff at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans for hosting such an impactful conference. HVAF is proud to be part of this team effort!