Church ministry delivers 100th welcome basket to formerly homeless veteran

Rebecca Hawkins clinks glasses with Woodrow as one small way to welcome the Army veteran home through her regular outreach with the Casa Veterans Ministry based at the Franciscan Renewal Center. He spent some time on the streets and in shelters recently. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The average American will move roughly 11 times in a lifetime. In a way, one woman from a parish-based outreach ministry shattered that statistic nine times over.

She spent an hour or so June 22 not moving her own belongings, but helping a previously homeless veteran move brand new toiletries and kitchen essentials into his own studio apartment. It was the 100th time she has done so in the last several years.

She brought the items as gifts on behalf of the Casa Veterans Ministry at the Franciscan Renewal Center and packaged them as a “St. Joseph’s Basket.” The basket — a laundry basket loaded with pots and pans, storage containers, sheets, shower curtain, other toiletries and a Bible — provides $130 worth of basic housewarming gifts.

Rebecca Hawkins watches alongside staff from Community Bridges as Woodrow opens his housewarming gifts June 22. Hawkins brought the gifts in a “St. Joseph’s Basket,” the 100th collection of housewares and toiletries the Casa Veterans Ministry has provided formerly homeless veterans. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

A network of partners including Community Bridges, which coordinates the moves and follow up care, identifies homeless veterans in the community who qualify for a home and ensure they remain connected with the VA or other regular forms of health care. It’s part of Project H3 Vets, which falls under the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness. The Casa stays involved to ensure that third “H” in the project’s mission, “hope,” doesn’t get forgotten.

Casa Veterans Ministry

Based at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, the Casa Veterans Ministry offers an array of education, events and services to support service members, veterans and their families.

Info: thecasa.org/veteransministry or casaveteransministry@gmail.com

“I’ve seen so many men and women change their lives dramatically because of what CBI does,” said Rebecca Hawkins, who has been part of Casa’s Veterans Ministry since its inception. That simple step of housing and a sense of safety makes a difference.

The retired Phoenix VA physician said she never had a patient who she couldn’t have a relationship with, but noted that long haul truck drivers — because of erratic schedules — and veterans who were homeless were the hardest group of people to reach. Those without homes rightly worried more about food and shelter than about keeping medical appointments, Hawkins said.

Others simply had no effective way to remember appointment dates or even know what day it is. Hawkins described one veteran who, in the span of three weeks, went from being just housed but with long hair and a bit disoriented to under control of his medication and employed.

As for Woodrow, the 100th veteran to receive a St. Joseph Basket the first morning he woke up in his new place, he said, “I didn’t think it’d be all this.”

Community Bridges staff and Rebecca Hawkins representing the Casa Veterans Ministry, pose with Woodrow the first morning in the Army veterans new studio apartment. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Community Bridges staff even washed and put away his new dishes. Woodrow looks forward to his newfound independence and to having his adult children visit. The Army veteran from the late ‘70s at one point lost contact with them and spent the better part of the last three months in area shelters and on the street.

One son, Landrow, was determined to find him. He searched the streets near downtown Phoenix and finally signed up to serve at St. Vincent de Paul’s Human Services campus location hoping to catch a glimpse of his father. That glimpse became steadfast eye contact until the father and son recognized one another. It was day one of his volunteer assignment.

Landrow, himself, didn’t have a place of his own at the time either and couldn’t take him in, but the pair is happy to be supporting one another again. Such parent/child togetherness was a staple in the ministry’s early days when Hawkins‘ own ailing mother was alive and active in it as shopper and deliverer.

“I would push her wheelchair and she would push our cart,” Hawkins recalled of their Wal-Mart trips.

They bought pots, dishes and silverware for less than $25, picking up three sets of everything and storing them in her garage. Twice, fellow shoppers donated toward the cause when they found out why the women were buying houseware items in bulk.

Shopping discount stores for other essentials, including comforters and pillows, helps Hawkins stretch the ministry’s dollars.

“So far, I’ve never had to turn down anybody because of funding. I pray and God provides,” Hawkins said. Any time Community Bridges is ready to resettle a formerly homeless veteran, Hawkins happily drives across the Valley to welcome him or her home.

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Other resources: Coalition to End Homelessness     Coalition for Military Families     Phoenix VA
State Department of Veterans’ Services     Women veterans     Tucson