CINCINNATI — Sometimes the best laid out plan for a mission can totally go the opposite direction -- when that happens veterans know how to adapt and overcome to accomplish the task at hand.
The pandemic upended everything for almost everyone across the country. The non-profit Joseph House, which specializes in helping veterans through drug and alcohol addiction, was no different.
"We really had to get creative, finding new ways to allow these guys to continue treatment,” Marine Corps veteran and Joseph House executive director at Joseph House Alicia Patterson said.
She explains that through the Paycheck Protection Program they were able to fund certain staff members. Through CARES Act funding and grants from Hamilton County they were able to upgrade technology to allow their mission to continue.
“We got the veterans all new iPads that they can use in house," she said. "Then we also got the counselors new computers that were more up to date so that they could continue to conduct telehealth sessions for them.”
She praises her counselors for maintaining that personal connection with the veterans by using the telehealth option since she says Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous support groups weren’t meeting in person.
She said they cut the number of beds down from 53 to 43 to create less crowding, and the 43 beds that remain are all beds funded by the VA. While the 10 beds they’re not filling during the pandemic are tied to Medicaid for use by those veterans who may not qualify for VA benefits.
The pandemic funding dollars also allowed them to thoroughly clean the five buildings where they house veterans in Over-the-Rhine along Republic St. They purchased an industrial washer and dryer to be able to handle the additional laundry needs, bought UV lights to help with disinfecting and had the buildings professionally fogged and cleaned to lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19.
They setup regular virus testing and created a quarantine area for when new veterans arrive.
“You have to be tested within 48 hours prior to coming in, and until we get the results they stay in the quarantine room so we can at least get them off the street while we wait for results,” she said.
Patterson said they sectioned off the veterans into smaller pods of 10 to 12 to limit the interaction between groups -- the idea to lessen any exposure should one person test positive for the virus.
While under the CARES Act, organizations like Joseph House could have sent homeless veterans off to area hotels, like some homeless shelters did during the summer. Patterson pushed back over concerns the veterans staying at Joseph House could potentially fall off the positive track they’re on by being alone.
“If you were someone struggling with housing, but you didn't have a substance abuse issue, if you wanted to go to a hotel, that's fantastic,” she said. “But putting someone who struggles with addiction, you know, in putting them in a hotel by themselves - it can be catastrophic for them.”
Even under the restrictions of the pandemic Patterson said they’ve been able to successfully transition veterans through the counseling and into housing under HUD-VASH vouchers.
“We were able to move forward and get them housed and if they were already a resident here, we can continue outpatient services for them. So that they weren't alone in this apartment now after getting all the services, and now they're by themselves in this apartment during COVID,” Patterson said. “So we definitely wanted to keep that avenue open for them, that they can, you know, continue to come in and receive those types of services and therapy.”
Some of the veterans staying at Joseph House have received their second vaccination and others will get theirs soon. Patterson hopes to have staff vaccinated and back full time in the building by sometime in April.
So while her second year in the role as executive director may have had its challenges she says she’s till focused on Joseph House’s future – one that takes it out of Over-the-Rhine and into a more cohesive environment.
“We are exploring all different options as far as selling our buildings eventually,” she said. “And we're actually working with some partners right now to, to help find some locations that would really allow Joseph House continue to do the work in a clinical setting.”
Patterson said the timeline to achieve their goal is likely a two-to-three year plan.
If you’re a veteran facing homelessness or other concerns and are in need of a hand up call the Central Access Point (CAP) Helpline (513-381-SAFE).