New community center in Baltimore aims to help struggling veterans

BALTIMORE - “When we go out and meet someone on the street who is holding sign saying “homeless veteran,” only about a third of the time we find that they actually are veterans.”

That’s according to Christopher Buser with the Maryland VA Healthcare System. He spends his days searching for servicemen and women suffering from homelessness, depression, PTSD and substance abuse.

He said 40 percent of veterans deal with some sort of mental illness when they finish their service.

As a former Army captain, Buser considers himself lucky.

“Why did some of us wind up in one area, and some wind up in another?” Buser said. “I can see how that very thin line exists for folks and how it’s very easy to slide.”

About six months ago, Buser and others got  a new tool to help – the brand new Community Resource and Referral Center. It’s located just two blocks away from the VA Hospital on West Fayette Street.

The facility and staff is helping veterans deal with issues big and small.

“It’s the small things that make the biggest difference at times,” Buser said.

The CRRC is a “walk-in only” facility able to provide everything from medical and legal consultations to a shower, a meal, a gymnasium, clothes and a washing machine. The laundry room even has a “bed bug zapper” machine equipped to kill the insects frequently plaguing those living on the streets.

“We want the veterans to come here and kind of hang out. This is a place to come and spend their day,” said Program Coordinator Anthony Gibson.

The CRRC is a joint effort between several VA organizations. It aims to connect those who have served to the many government and private services available to veterans. Currently, the program is running in only 29 cities.

When a struggling veteran arrives, “step one” is making sure he or she has a place to stay. Staff members can give advice on housing vouchers, shelters or set the veteran up with an apartment.

That’s what happened for retired serviceman Thomas Williams, who was found living on a park bench in Hopkins Plaza.

“Well, I was crazy,” he said. “I didn’t know they were going to be that nice and that they wouldn’t let me down. I thought I was going to be on my own. They were right there.”

The CRRC is looking to expand is program in the near future; possibly adding a game room and cooking classes. The goal, however, is to get the veterans a home and get them out.

To get assistance with you services at the CRRC, all you have to do is drop by. No appointments are required.

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