FARGO — The area’s first Veterans Community Resource and Referral Center has quietly opened in downtown Fargo.
The first client to be helped by the center — which focuses on helping homeless vets get stable housing, health care, jobs and other services — stopped by on Thursday, Sept. 10, Director Diana Hall said.
“We try to provide a one-stop place for veterans to come for almost any need they might have, be it housing, employment. Maybe they’re a veteran that’s never accessed VA services before and just wants to know what they’re eligible for. We can help those veterans with needs assess what those needs are and, hopefully, take care of most of those needs here, on site,” said Hall, the program manager for VA homeless programs in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.
The CRRC is at 721 1st Ave. N., in the single-story brick building that was the home of Dawson Insurance.
The director of the Fargo VA Health Care System, Dr. Bret Weintraub, praised the opening of the CRRC, one of more than 30 such centers in the U.S. and the first in North Dakota.
“The new CRRC will allow us to provide needed services to at-risk veterans including housing support, promoting good mental and physical health, and helping veterans integrate into their communities,” Weintraub said. “This wonderful resource represents the culmination of the tireless efforts of a number of our staff at the Fargo VA. It has been conveniently placed downtown to be able to partner with other key community entities.”
Planning for the 10,000-square-foot center began about 10 years ago, with funding approved about two and a half years ago, Hall said. In the meantime, services for homeless veterans were provided through the Gladys Ray Shelter just west of downtown.
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The CRRC offers a continuum of services, among them placing homeless vets in emergency shelter beds and ongoing case management. The facility also has a full medical clinic, with a laboratory and telemedicine capabilities.
Other services include helping with employment placement, showers, laundry facilities, a food pantry and clothing closet, and access to computers. It can also serve as a mail drop for homeless vets living in cars or couch surfing.
A veterans justice outreach program helps some veterans by allowing the CRRC to intervene and provide treatment in lieu of incarceration, Hall said.
“We actually go from literally finding someone on the street to helping them sustain permanent housing for as long as they need it and everything in between,” she said.
The VA homeless program in this region helps 1,000 to 1,200 veterans per year. The staff includes 13 master’s level social workers; six home-based primary care workers; and a physician’s assistant, registered nurse and a licensed practical nurse at the on-site clinic, said Hall, who has also served in the military.
Overall, there are more than 55,000 military veterans in North Dakota. Another 22,000 veterans live in the 17 northwest Minnesota counties that fall into the Fargo VA’s service area, however, not all of those veterans are eligible for, or use, VA health care or services, according to VA spokesman Ross Tweten.
The downtown location is easily accessible, with a bus stop just outside the door. It is also surrounded by other community providers, including shelters, a food kitchen, and day labor placement firm, “all of the things people might need to access when they’re down on their luck and need that hand up, like some veterans do," Hall said.
The VA has notched some successes in getting homeless vets into housing and is shifting some of its efforts to homelessness prevention, she said.
In 2008, North Dakota averaged about 1,200 homeless people nightly, about 30% of them veterans — twice the national average, Hall said.
The numbers were fueled by the fact that North Dakota, per capita, has a higher rate of service in the military than most states, she said.
Today,”on any given night, we have approximately 30 veterans that we are serving to provide emergency shelter and rapid re-housing,” Hall said.
Hall said she hopes the smaller, more intimate building in downtown Fargo will be less intimidating for vets in need.
“Warm and welcoming is our goal,” Hall said.
A grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25. Congressional representatives from North Dakota and Minnesota, local mayors and officials from local veterans groups have been invited to attend and tour the building. The event is not open to the general public due to social distancing concerns.