Fargo Veterans Community Resource and Referral Center offers unique help to homeless vets – InForum
FARGO — The area’s first community resource and referral center for veterans has quietly opened in downtown Fargo.
The first client to be helped by the center – which focuses on helping homeless vets obtain stable housing, healthcare, jobs and other services – stopped on Thursday, September 10, said director Diana Hall.
“We try to provide one-stop shopping for veterans for almost any need they might have, whether it’s housing or employment. Maybe it’s a veteran who has never accessed VA services before and just wants to know what he is entitled to. We can help veterans with needs assess what those needs are and hopefully meet most of those needs right here on the ground,” said Hall, manager of VA homelessness programs in the North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.
The CRRC is located at 721 1st Ave. N., in the one-story brick building that was the residence of Dawson Insurance.
Fargo VA Health Care System Director Dr. Bret Weintraub welcomed the opening of the CRRC, one of more than 30 such centers in the United States and the first in North Dakota.
“The new CRRC will enable us to provide needed services to at-risk veterans, including housing support, promoting good mental and physical health, and helping veterans integrate into their communities,” said said Weintraub. “This wonderful resource represents the culmination of the tireless efforts of a number of our employees at Fargo VA. It was ideally placed downtown to be able to partner with other key community entities.
Planning for the 10,000 square foot center began about 10 years ago, with funding approved about two and a half years ago, Hall said. Meanwhile, services for homeless veterans have been provided through the Gladys Ray Shelter just west of downtown.
The CRRC offers a continuum of services, including the placement of homeless veterinarians in emergency shelter beds and ongoing case management. The facility also has a full medical clinic, with a lab and telemedicine capabilities.
Other services include job placement assistance, showers, laundry, pantry and clothes closet, and access to computers. It can also serve as a mail depot for homeless vets living in cars or couch surfing.
A veterans justice outreach program helps some veterans by allowing the CRRC to step in and provide treatment instead of incarceration, Hall said.
“We literally go from finding someone on the street to helping them maintain permanent housing for as long as they need it and everything in between,” she said.
The VA homeless program in this area helps 1,000 to 1,200 veterans per year. The staff includes 13 Masters level social workers; six home-based primary care workers; and a physician assistant, registered nurse and licensed practical nurse at the onsite clinic, said Hall, who also served in the military.
Overall, there are over 55,000 military veterans in North Dakota. Another 22,000 veterans live in the 17 northwestern Minnesota counties that fall under Fargo VA’s service area, according to VA spokesman Ross Tweten.
The downtown location is easily accessible, with a bus stop right outside the door. He’s also surrounded by other community providers, including shelters, a food kitchen and a day job placement business, “all the things people might need to access when they’re down on their luck. and need a helping hand, like some veterans do,” Hall said.
The VA has had some success securing housing for homeless vets and is shifting some of its efforts toward preventing homelessness, she said.
In 2008, North Dakota averaged about 1,200 homeless people every night, about 30 percent of them veterans, twice the national average, Hall said.
The numbers were fueled by the fact that North Dakota, per capita, has a higher rate of military service than most states, she said.
Today, “on any given night, we have approximately 30 veterans serving to provide emergency shelter and rapid relocation,” Hall said.
Hall said she hopes the smaller, more intimate building in downtown Fargo will be less intimidating for vets in need.
“Warm and welcoming is our goal,” Hall said.
A grand opening and inauguration ceremony is scheduled for Friday, September 25 at 3 p.m. Congressional representatives from North Dakota and Minnesota, local mayors, and leaders of local veterans groups were invited to attend and tour the building. The event is not open to the general public due to social distancing issues.