Veteran to veteran: ‘You can do it. Follow me.’

The Veterans Multi-Service Center teamed up with eight other organizations to form a coalition to end veteran homeless in Philadelphia by the deadline. Outreach coordinator Delvin Brinson's job is to convince the homeless vets to take a chance on redemption. Credit: Charles Mostoller.
The Veterans Multi-Service Center teamed up with eight other organizations to form a coalition to end veteran homeless in Philadelphia by the deadline. Outreach coordinator Delvin Brinson’s job is to convince the homeless vets to take a chance on redemption. Credit: Charles Mostoller.

Delvin Brinson started out a good guy. Turned bad guy. Turned undecided guy.

Now he helps turns those bad and undecided guys around.

“I was the guy that when you come into the neighborhood,” he said, “You didn’t rob nobody, you didn’t mess with nobody, because you had to meet me.”

But he lost his way.

“And instead of being the guy who looked out for the good people,” he said. “I became the guy who started hanging out with the crazy people.”

This experience makes Brinson – a 61-year-old former drug dealer, jail bird, street fighter and alcoholic – uniquely qualified for his position.

Brinson is a homeless veteran outreach specialist for the Philadelphia Veterans Multi Service & Education Center in Old City. He goes out and convinces the homeless veterans to follow him out from the cold and into an opportunity to integrate back into society.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs set Dec. 31, 2015 as the date to end chronic veterans homelessness. So the Veterans Center teamed up with eight other organizations to form a coalition to end veteran homeless in Philadelphia by the deadline.

The main goal is to cut down on the time it takes to get vets housed and back on their feet.

And it starts with Brinson, who goes out and finds them.

First, he tries to build trust. Brings blankets, jackets, gloves scarves, “Even a meal,” he says. Something to get them to stop and think, “You know, maybe this guy really does want to help me.”

Now he has a captive audience.

He explains what’s next. The service center finds housing. And then a job.

“And now they have to take on other things, such as responsibility,” Brinson said. “Because once we get you this help, you have to be able to sustain and maintain this.”

This is where the navigator comes in. A previously homeless veteran, who is now housed, acts as a mentor.

The model, said Tim Meserve, a veteran who heads the Multi-Service Center, is to convince the homeless veterans that there is comfort and safety to be found off the streets.

These soldiers Meserve employs can say: “Hey, I did it. You can do it,” he said.

“Follow me.”

____________________

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