For 26 years, the Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center (DC VAMC) has opened its doors to Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness for the annual Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down. This daylong, community event provides displaced and transitioning Veterans with clothing, personal care kits, health screenings, haircuts and referrals for health care, housing assistance, employment counseling and other essential services.

This year, what would have been the 27th annual Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down was put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, in accordance with VA and CDC guidance.

But the team at the DC VAMC’s Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) program was undeterred. They came up with a way to provide Stand Down services and resources to Veterans at risk of or experiencing homelessness without bringing them all together in one location.

Through numerous partnerships and donations, the team was able to fill VA backpacks with hygiene products, undergarments, hats, gloves, socks, face masks and hand sanitizer, and deliver them to Veterans living without shelter or residing in housing provided by the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, in transitional housing, or in local shelters. Throughout the winter months, the team also distributed gift boxes with food, winter coats and comfort items.

Donations specifically for women Veterans

The distribution project was dubbed “Winterhaven Lite,” and by the end of December 2020, it had helped 248 Washington-area Veterans through generous donations from community partners. One of those partners was I Support the Girls, a nonprofit organization that provides essential items to women and girls.

“Our key focus is collecting and distributing essential items for women. This includes new bras, underwear, menstrual hygiene products and more to help women who are experiencing homelessness stand tall in the community,” said Dana Marlowe, founder of I Support the Girls. “We believe women shouldn’t have to choose between feeding themselves and their personal health.”

The I Support the Girls’ “I Brake for Bras” van delivering boxes of donated products to DC VAMC.

In preparation for the Stand Down distribution event, the HCHV team asked I Support the Girls for a donation of hygiene products and toiletries for women and girls. Through its own fundraising event, I Support the Girls received enough donations to provide VA with 100 bras, over 100 pairs of underwear and 5,500 hygiene products.

“The donation project displayed humanity at its best,” said Sha’ron Haddock, a VA social worker. “We have all been experiencing crazy times. To know that we are all still connected and feel cared about was unexpected but completely appreciated.”

Although Winterhaven Lite has officially ended, the team at the DC VAMC continues to provide Veterans with clothing and other items as needed.

“We received so much feedback about women Veterans who were so appreciative to have these gifts to support themselves and keep their dignity,” Marlowe said. “Through these products, they feel better about how their clothes look on them and how they present themselves to the world.”

More information

  • D.C. local Veterans in need of assistance can call the Community Resource and Referral Center for an appointment at 202-745-3012.
  • For more information about I Support the Girls, visit their website.
  • Visit VA’s Veterans Experiencing Homelessness website to learn about other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness.
  • Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838).
  • For regular updates and stories like this, subscribe to receive the Homeless Programs Office monthly newsletter.

Leisa Davis is a program analyst with the VHA Homeless Programs Office.

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Published on Mar. 31, 2021

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