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Army veteran says he regained dignity through Patriot House in Brooklyn Park

Rachael Pacella
Contact Reporterrpacella@capgaznews.com

Richard Harrison learned how to cook by watching his mother.

The 58-year-old said he’s a chef by trade.

He graduated from Old Mill High School and joined the Army, where he was a cook while serving from 1977 to 1980.

He comes from a military family — his dad was in the Army and the Navy, he said, and he followed his older brother into the service. He served in Europe and throughout the United States, including at Fort George G. Meade.

“I had a great time in the Army,” he said.

He worked in the restaurant industry after leaving the Army, and also attended culinary school at Anne Arundel Community College, he said. Harrison became homeless for the first time in 2011 after a Glen Burnie restaurant for which he was kitchen manager closed.

“I couldn’t pay my rent, got in debt,” he said.

Then he got another restaurant job and an apartment in Pasadena. He worked for three years, but became homeless again in 2016 after he quit his job. Again, he couldn’t afford his rent.

“When you’re homeless, you don’t know where your meals come from. You’ve got to really watch your money,” he said.

He said he also had to watch his surroundings, whether he was sleeping on a park bench or in a car.

But he doesn’t have to worry about that today. For the past 14 months, Harrison has been living at the Patriot House in Brooklyn Park, which offers transitional housing to homeless veterans.

“I can get up in the morning, go to work, knowing that, when I get off of work, I have a place to stay. Food to eat. Money in your pocket. Debt cleaned up,” he said.

And, of course, Harrison cooks for his fellow veterans at the house — dishes like lasagna, pineapple upside-down cake, and beef and broccoli. He also has a job cooking for patients at Genesis HealthCare’s Hammonds Lane Center. It’s a new challenge for him to cook with a focus on the patient’s dietary needs.

The smiles make it worth it, he said. And when people ask for seconds.

Harrison will transition to a permanent home in Anne Arundel County in the coming months.

The process has allowed him to regain his dignity, he said.

In the most recent point-in-time survey of homelessness in the county, conducted in January, 364 homeless people were counted. Of those, 25 were veterans.

In his proposed fiscal year 2019 budget, County Executive Steve Schuh is providing $60,000 to support an initiative called Operation Home, which aims to put an end to veteran homelessness in Anne Arundel. Another $20,000 in federal dollars will be allocated to the initiative.

The bulk of the $80,000 will go toward rental subsidies, Arundel Community Development Services Inc. Executive Director Kathleen Koch said. Funding will also go to services to support veterans, such as job, credit or substance use counseling.

The funding is needed, Harrison said. He also said more homeless veterans need to be made aware of the resources available to them from Veterans Affairs and other avenues.

ACDS is working in partnership with the county and created a GoFundMe page to raise an additional $10,000 for the Operation Home effort.

Arundel House of Hope runs the Patriot House program, which has space for six veterans at a time.

Executive Director Mario Berninzoni said veterans are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

Some veterans, particularly those who served in the Vietnam War, didn’t get the proper care they needed when they returned from service, he said. Homeless veterans can have mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and can also have underlying substance abuse problems, he said.

“Mental health and substance abuse go hand in hand with the homeless population,” Berninzoni said.

Ending veteran homelessness in Anne Arundel is a realistic goal, he said.

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