‘One-stop’ help Proposed center seeks to aid veterans

Veteran Dawn Frazier works Monday at the Goodwill store on Rivers Avenue as part of “Operation Independence.”

Brad Nettles

Air Force veteran Frank Smoak Jr. went from being homeless to giving up alcohol and cigarettes.

Plus, he got a full-time job.

And, if a new Veterans Affairs “one-stop” assistance center in North Charleston works as intended, he sees an even quicker and better delivery for veterans who, like him, were once down on their luck.

“It will relieve the pressure and stress from having to go from one place to another,” said Smoak, 46, who served 10 years in uniform, from 1984-94.

Charleston’s Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center on Monday announced it received a $528,000 VA grant to create a “one-stop” service hub for homeless veterans in North Charleston.

It will offer a range of services, including medical, mental health and psychosocial needs and assessments, case management, benefits, job assistance, legal aid, food and showers.

Another key service will be follow-up support.

While a site for the Community Resource and Referral Center hasn’t been selected, officials are concentrating on Rivers Avenue and have a projected opening date of some time this fall.

Homelessness in the Charleston region remains a serious problem, with veterans making up about 37 percent of the 2,500 homeless people estimated to have been here last year, which totals about 925 individuals.

Part of the issue in delivering treatment to those vets has been in connecting with those who need it most, officials said.

“Sometimes there may be a gap there,” said Dr. Hugh Myrick, chief of mental health at the VA. “People might not know what might be available.”

North Charleston was selected for the site because of the heavy concentration of the region’s homeless. Mayor Keith Summey said another key aspect is that the center will also provide assistance to family members of homeless vets, including children.

Summey related one story of how officials recently found a grandmother, mother and three children living in a storage shed.

Also taking part in the effort is the Palmetto Goodwill organization, several area shelters and other community organizations.