Fittest loser
Article updated: 11/4/2013 4:12 PM

Homeless veterans get help at Lovell's new center

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Military veterans who are homeless or fear losing their homes can seek assistance at a new office in Lake County.

A walk-in center for homeless veterans opened Monday at the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago.

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Social workers and other personnel will help veterans find emergency or short-term housing, mental-health treatment, medical assistance or other needed services.

"Our goal is a one-stop shop for a homeless veteran coming in," said Bill Flood, manager of homeless programs at the Lovell Center. "If you get to us, we'll take it from here."

The facility, in the sprawling campus's main hospital building, initially will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Staffers hope to eventually expand to five-day-a-week service.

The center opened in offices that had been a women's health clinic. That clinic moved to larger space in a new building.

Elizabeth Morgan, who coordinates health care services for homeless veterans at the Lovell Center, hopes the new center will streamline the process for veterans and decrease the time they spend waiting for shelter.

But the center isn't just about finding the veterans a warm place to sleep. The staff members want to help address the root causes of the problem, such as drug abuse, unemployment or mental health issues.

"We have to find out what their needs are," Morgan said.

Some of the homeless veterans who come to the Lovell Center for help are elderly people who can't pay bills and lose gas service in the winter, Flood said. Others are younger veterans who are asked to leave home by their parents.

"Any day, it can be anything," Flood said.

During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Lovell Center staff members responded to 215 calls from veterans to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' national homeless call center. Additionally, 168 homeless veterans were admitted to the center's residential homeless program.

Flood estimated the typical homeless veteran is in his 40s, and they're getting younger.

U.S. Army veteran Ernest Blouin was among the first visitors to the new center Monday. He said he's been homeless off and on for two years.

Blouin was quickly introduced to a social worker.

"I'm trying to find out if I qualify for some type of housing," the Vietnam War veteran said. "This is a good thing. Hell with pride, I need someone to help me find someplace."

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Emanuel Yates, who's already in temporary housing at the Lovell Center, stopped into the office Monday, too. He praised the efforts of the Lovell staff members to help him and his fellow veterans.

"It's surprising how many (veterans) I find are not fully aware of all the services available to them," Yates said. "It's really easy to get taken care of here."

For more information or to seek assistance, call (224) 610-1148 or visit lovell.fhcc.va.gov.

Daily Herald staff writer Gilbert R. Boucher II contributed to this report.

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