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VOL. 128 | NO. 195 | Monday, October 7, 2013

Helping the Homeless

Genesis House doubles capacity for veterans

By Michael Waddell

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Genesis House, a shelter for homeless men and women run by Catholic Charities of West Tennessee, is doubling its capacity for veterans suffering from mental illness and addiction. The home is expanding from five to 10 the number of beds reserved for veterans – good news for the organization following the closure of two of its other programs for the homeless earlier this year because of a lack of new funding.

Floyd Garland lives in a three-person room at Genesis House, which has more than 30 beds. The home serves as a shelter for homeless men and women and is run by Catholic Charities of West Tennessee. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The number of homeless veterans in Memphis and Shelby County is growing, said Michael D. Allen, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of West Tennessee.

“Unfortunately, because of the two recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are just so many veterans coming back with mental health issues due to their experiences in the theater of war, and often that manifests itself in homelessness,” Allen said. “So the issue of veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness is growing in our community.”

Genesis House, at 300 N. Bellevue Blvd., was founded in 1985 and now has 39 beds for homeless men and women who have co-occurring disorders consisting of a mental health diagnosis – such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – combined with substance abuse.

The Veterans Administration approached Genesis House in the summer of 2011 about adding five beds for veterans awaiting placement into permanent housing; this summer, the VA requested that Genesis House double that number.

“We have a great relationship with the local VA, and we had some unused space, so it was not a problem to add the additional beds,” said Allen, who has worked with the agency since 2010. “And we actually still have room to grow in that particular facility without the need for any more capital improvements.”

The building was previously used as a nursing home and is licensed for 60 beds. Generally the house’s 30-plus beds are about 85 percent full.

Genesis House employs three case managers and three therapists. Together, they offer a team-based, comprehensive, holistic treatment approach that includes psychological, vocational and educational services.

“A case manager and therapist work as a team with every client on life skills, making sure they are accessing any benefits they might be entitled to, and soft skills around employment in terms of things like interviewing skills, helping them write a resume and connecting them with potential employers,” Allen said.

On any given day, about one-third of Genesis House residents are also working. They are given the tools necessary to find gainful employment, permanent housing and the ability to make healthier long-term choices.

Vietnam veteran Charles Ricky Johnson is a resident at Genesis House.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Catholic Charities established three homeless programs: Genesis House; Dozier House, for homeless men and women with substance abuse; and Sophia’s House, for women and children fleeing domestic violence.

“We closed both Dozier and Sophia’s within the last year, primarily due to a shifting of funding priorities at Housing and Urban Development,” Allen said. “We lost our funding and were not able to keep them open.”

Dozier House closed at the end of June and Sophia’s House in March, and Allen thinks it is unlikely that either will reopen.

“We would need fairly significant dollars – more than an extra $1 million in private funding – and I just don’t think that is likely,” said Allen, who feels the $450,000 annual HUD funding for Genesis House is stable for the moment. The HUD money makes up 70 percent of the house’s annual budget, with the remaining 30 percent coming from private donations from individuals and foundations.

Catholic Charities of West Tennessee is the social services arm of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. It is one of the largest nonprofit, multi-social service providers in the Mid-South, with special emphasis in homelessness, children’s programming, immigration services, veteran’s services and emergency services.

On Oct. 18, the organization plans to launch a program funded by the VA that will work exclusively with homeless veterans and their families.

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