Dr. Estella Morris has spent her life helping Veterans. A Veteran herself, she graduated UALR and has spent forty-one years working for the federal government, thirty-seven of which are working with the Veterans Administration. And it was thanks to Dr. Morris that St. Francis House found one of its callings, to work with Veterans experiencing homelessness.
“Initially, the Veterans Administration was contracting with another agency for its’ Re-Entry program. In looking at what they offered and what Veterans needed, I saw a lot of inconsistencies “states Dr. Morris. “As a federal program, religious services cannot be required. Veterans need to be able to seek employment and have licensed providers for clinical services to address the issues that led to homelessness. St. Francis House was already providing services for people getting out of prison; they had the staffing base and a solid reputation for addressing social needs”. St. Francis House was willing to offer ways to address clinical needs and to hire licensed clinical staff.”
Perhaps just as important is the commitment shown by St. Francis House to maintaining a Veterans’ quality of life. St. Francis House decided to address needs that surveys of best practices have shown to be vital to assisting Veterans’ achieve long-term stability- family, other Veterans, pets, and employment. St. Francis House decided to work with family members, even though the VA programs don’t cover that cost. “Keeping families together has a huge impact on a Veterans’ success: says Dr. Morris.
The second factor, maintaining contact with other Veterans, is addressed through Veteran peer counselors. “St. Francis House preceded the VA in utilizing other Veterans as peer counselors, hiring”, said Dr. Morris. “When The VA began a Vet-to-Vet program, St. Francis House was already on board. They hired Veterans like Gary Clemmons and sent them to national training. In 2016 when the VA program grant closed, St. Francis House maintained the program because of its importance to the other Veterans.”
St. Francis House is also willing to allow Veterans with service animals or pets to bring them into care. “Pets are often important companions, especially for those who don’t have family or friends to provide support.”
Finally, sustainable employment is vital to a Veteran remaining self-sufficient. “St. Francis House’ willingness to expand program services to include help finding employment has been a key component in Veteran success. Even before they received the Dept. of Labor grant for Re-Integration services, St. Francis House was helping Veterans find employment. Now they have staff who work specifically in that area. “
But it’s not only Veterans that reside at St. Francis House that receive help. “St. Francis House also has staff with Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families (SSVF). SSVF provides a comprehensive way to meet Veterans’ needs, whether through Rapid Rehousing or Homeless Prevention. “
“Looking back,” Dr. Morris says “ I cannot think of any organization that would reach beyond what is and looks forward to new opportunities. St. Francis House goes beyond basic needs and looks at the whole person, even providing recreational opportunities through partnerships with churches and other groups like the Produffers Golf Group. Those collaborative relationships with other agencies and community organizations allow St. Francis House to focus on finding solutions to a wide variety of problems.”
St. Francis House truly values our relationship with Dr. Morris and all the staff at the Veterans’ Day Treatment Center and are so grateful Dr. Morris thought of us when she needed a place to serve Veterans experiencing homelessness. Dr. Morris thank you for your lifetime of service, and we look forward to continuing to work with you in the future!