Adapting to the shutdowns has been challenging, but for more vulnerable groups in Contra Costa County, such as veterans who have found themselves on the street, the pandemic has had a much harsher effect. For countless homeless veterans across the County, the shutdowns impacted the availability of services on which they rely. Luckily, the St. Vincent de Paul of Contra Costa County Conference at St. Callistus Church in El Sobrante provides a safety net for this often overlooked population.
Over the summer, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program reached out to the SVdP branch at St. Callistus, to recognize their service to Veterans in the county and to thank them for their work to help veterans struggling during the pandemic.
“Since the start of the pandemic, SVdP volunteers have helped tons of veterans, I don’t know how we would have done it without the help from the SVdP volunteers at St. Callistus,” Hannah Frank, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Case Manager withthe VA’s HUD-VASH program, said. “For our veterans dealing with homelessness, getting around in the county can be almost impossible if they don’t have transportation. Many of them are suffering from mental health issues as well, so the pandemic’s disruption of their routines has been hard.”
James Cherry is a Peer Support Specialist with the VA’s HUD-VASH program. He was connected to the SVdP branch at St. Callistus through a veteran “Vincentian,” Arlesa Miles. James said that SVdP volunteers at St. Callistus called him to ask how they could help veterans in the County. Since then SVdP’s St. Callistus branch has been providing necessities for veterans, such food and hygiene products.
“Arlesa is a rock star,” James said. “She started calling me up saying she knows there are people she and her fellow volunteers could help. She told me to send veterans her way. Having an organization like St. Vincent de Paul helping veterans-in-need is deeply touching.”
Arlesa said she began volunteering at the SVdP branch at St. Callistus Church 7 years ago because she wanted to give back to her community and be more active. An army veteran, Arlesa said she suffers from agoraphobia, and becoming a Vincentian with SVdP helps her mental health.
“We have a lot of veterans that come to us that have just been hit hard by this pandemic,” James said. “It’s amazing the work that the SVdP team does. I encourage the veterans I work with to volunteer if they can, because sometimes when you’re in a dark pit, helping others is a way to set yourself free. The SVdP team at St. Callistus are helping a lot of people to go a place where they can set themselves free, it’s humbling.”