IT IS ALL ABOUT A JOB—Veterans Place employment coordinator, Carena M. Phillips reminds her participants to dream. (Photos by Diane Daniels)

Also hired at Veterans Place in December, Marlon L. Ferguson concurs with Phillips theory. “We cannot meet our goals if we are not providing the appropriate services for our clients. We strive to provide a variety of supportive services which include case management, recovery support, clothing, an on-site food pantry, employment support, and other services designed to build them toward self-sufficiency and successful independent living.”

As executive director, Ferguson a retired United States Navy Man said he looks forward to taking Veterans Place to the next level. “This facility has been at its current location, 945 Washington Boulevard for ten years but has existed since 1996.”  Mentioning that he has always heard that Allegheny County has a high concentration of Viet Nam Veterans he pointed out that Veterans Place serves all Vets which include the Korean War, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and all combats following. Pointing out statistic from his website that 20 percent of homeless adults are Veterans and that Veterans are more than twice as likely as civilians to become homeless during their lifetimes. He says that concerns him.

“This is hard for me to wrap my head around because in the Military you are taught how to survive.” Acquainting situations to mental illness and the recent bad economy he said his aim is to enhance services the agency currently has and to bring in more funding.

The current Veterans Place site is a 48 bed Transitional Housing Facility providing Vets up to a 24-month stay in one of the 13 townhouses all while receiving supportive services. Through the Homeless Veterans Day Program Veterans Place also provide Veterans living in Pittsburgh’s emergency shelters as well as on the streets services.

Ferguson explained that daily shuttle busses transport them to the facility where they are provided with breakfast, lunch, clothing, case management, referrals and services designed to address the root issues that cause their homelessness, including chemical dependency and mental illness. Transportation is also often provided for medical appointments and access to other community resources.

An Aliquippa native considering himself business minded, Ferguson said he took the executive director position at Veterans Place because he was looking for something more than a paycheck. “I want to be where I can make a difference.”  He views his responsibilities as fund raising; something he says is a dire need. “I also need to expand the resource and partnership base.” Currently Veterans Place works in partnership with the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. “We already work with most of the areas social service agencies, but with the goal to assist the Veterans in becoming self-sufficient and with permanent housing I have been meeting with banks and forming relationships with the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh,” he said.

Raised with four siblings in a public housing development by his mother, a single parent, Ferguson said the values of respect for self, the importance of giving back and helping others was instilled in him at an early age.

“Growing up my siblings and I relied on each other. We had it rough, but we are all now successful adults.”  Playing basketball in high school and at the University of Pittsburgh and seven years in the US Navy he credits as molding him into the man that he is. In addition to working at Veterans Place he teaches leadership skills through his motivational speaking and serves as a mentor.

Phillips, Ferguson and the crew at Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard are a perfect example of team work aiming to make the dream work. He pointed out that through their efforts, with the goal of permanent housing being central to Veterans in the program that over 80 per cent of their clients graduate successfully, one of the highest rates in the region.

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