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Helping homeless veterans

What does it take to provide a life for veterans living on the street?

In a recent article, Jonathan Pitts chronicles the challenges of veteran homelessness and explores a Baltimore rehab center's methodology to "analyze and treat whatever conditions underlie a veteran's homelessness" and "require the veteran to progress through several major phases, demonstrating commitment and increasing personal responsibility at each stage" ("At Baltimore rehab center, discipline seen as key to ending veteran homelessness," June 20).

I wish to thank The Baltimore Sun and Mr. Pitts for revealing the issue and challenges of homelessness — particularly for our veteran population in Baltimore — more clearly. The deeply-rooted issues plaguing veterans returning to civilian life, especially in underserved communities, is often more complex than lack of permanent housing. At The Baltimore Station, we have been specifically responding to the multifaceted needs of veterans experiencing homelessness and substance use disorder for 27 years by providing treatment beyond housing that includes mental health and substance use disorder therapy, food and life skills training and pro-social experiences to help heal, provide a basis for future positive social engagement and, ultimately, graduate to reentry in the workforce and independent living.

We, too, have found that much of an individual's success in maintaining stability is predicated upon their ability to deal with the issues and circumstances that underlie their situation. Our client-centered treatment plan, similar to the approach described in Mr. Pitts' article, ensures that we address the specific needs of our veterans so that they will have the skills and resources necessary to manage and overcome conditions including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance use disorder and other mental health disorders that take time to treat and manage.

And it's an approach that's working. Last year, we served 355 men, 88 percent of whom were veterans. The average length of stay within our program was 13 months, and 74 percent went on to secure independent housing or reunite with family. We're making headway with our strategy, just as MCVET is, but we need to collaborate more frequently and create more flexibility in government-funded programming to respond to the needs of our veterans more appropriately if we wish to break the cycle of homelessness — veteran or other.

John Friedel, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of The Baltimore Station.

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