On a sunny day, a group of military veterans and friends gathered at Lummus Park to celebrate fellow veteran Ralph Patterson’s* 84th birthday. Colorful tablecloths covered the picnic tables, hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken were grilling on the barbecue and a birthday cake was adorned with candles.
The occasion was just one of the many social outings held by Camillus House’s GDP (Grant and Per Diem) Low Demand Program, housed at Somerville Residences and funded by the Veterans Administration. Engagement activities also often have a therapeutic component to them.
Virginia Chin, the program’s case manager who handles housing and the social activities for the 20 residents of Camillus Somerville, was on site that afternoon ensuring the veterans were having a good time. Overseeing the medical side and also in attendance was Clinician Item Etefia who advocates for the men as they move along in the program. With degrees in both Psychology and Healthcare Administration, Etefia keeps them engaged and also ensures they are receiving both mental health services as well as their medications.
It was a happy day with the men gathered to celebrate Patterson who has been in the program for three years. A native New Yorker and US Navy veteran, he was enlisted and on an aircraft carrier from 1956-57 and then went on to study at NYU graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. He worked in network television at NBC, was accepted into the Director’s Guild of America and eventually got into radio sales and producing.
“I spent more than two decades in the broadcast industry, moving around a lot but mostly working in Atlanta. When I decided to get out of the business I traveled around the country,” said Patterson.
Then four years ago, he started running out of money and ended up in Miami. “I loved the weather here,” he said. He was told about Camillus House’s program and moved in a year after arriving in Miami.
On DJ duty that day, playing music for everyone to enjoy was William Tutchstone who has been at Somerville for about 6 months.
A two-year US Army veteran, Tutchstone said “after my time in the Army, I was on and off the streets for 15 years, I’m what they call a vagabond, pillar to post.”
All the men were in agreement that Camillus House has been a lifesaver, it was obvious in their stories of how living at Somerville and being part of this program is helping them all get back on their feet.
And keeping them fed while they live there is Wardell Fulton, a driver with Camillus House for the past 20 years who delivers three meals a day from main campus to Somerville, who was also at the festivities.
Celebrating birthdays and doing field trips as often as possible, is just another service the GPD Low Demand Program provides for participants. All these combined services are the path leading them to one day living independently in permanent housing.
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