York County raising money to open veteran-specific recovery home

York Dispatch
York County Prison began offering a veteran-specific housing unit in early October 2017. (Photo courtesy of Mark Walters)

Working under the premise that veterans hold each other accountable, York County is helping to launch a recovery home specifically for local vets.

Terry Gendron, director of the county's Department of Veteran Affairs, is leading the charge to raise the money necessary to open the facility by Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day.

The department will be transferring the entirety of its Veterans in Need fund to the project, which Gendron estimated would cost about $100,000 to get started.

The Veterans in Need fund has been around for about two decades, providing money to local veterans for emergency needs such as car repairs or utility payments. The fund paid out about $64,000 last year, according to Gendron.

Helping local veterans with those costs will now fall on other groups, including Wounded Warriors, he said.

The money in the fund will be transferred to Bell Socialization Services to open and operate the home, which Gendron said would undergo accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities and have a dedicated case worker to interact with the residents.

Deputy Steven Perkins, of the York County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard Team, left, secures the American flag as York County Department of Veterans Affairs Terry Gendron reads the 2016 names of honorees during the 2016 Court of Valor & Safekeepers Shrine Ceremony with York's Observance of the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 at Prospect Hill Cemetery in North York, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Gendron, who suffered through addiction himself, said the department has noticed a gap in housing available for veterans going through treatment, going through the court system or just coming out of jail.

"This could change lives for the better," he said of the home, which will initially house four to six male veterans.

The initiative is just the latest effort by the county to focus on rehabilitating veterans who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system.

York County Prison opened a veterans-only housing unit in October, and the county has overseen a specialized Veterans Treatment Court for about six years.

More:York County Prison testing veterans-only housing unit

York County Court of Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock, an Army colonel who oversees the Veterans Treatment Court, said the county has taken its approach because military personnel have been found to have greater success in recovery in the unit construct they became used to while serving.

Veterans tend to engage in self-correcting behavior when they're around fellow veterans, Trebilcock said.

The veteran-specific recovery house is an endeavor Trebilcock said he's excited about because he sees a shortage of healthy housing options available for veterans in his treatment court.

Trebilcock notes that there are about 100 recovery homes in the York area but less than a dozen that he feels confident can really be relied upon to provide a safe, nurturing environment.

"We're trying to get people off drugs, but in order to put them in close proximity to support services, we're putting them in houses in neighborhoods rife with drug dealers," he said. "It's totally counterproductive."

Trebilcock said he frequently sees veterans in recovery relapse because of their poor living situation.

York County Judge Craig T. Trebilcock talks about the challenges for veterans returning to civilian life while introducing the single York County Treatment Courts graduate, David Oldfield, during a ceremony at the  Appell Center for the Performing Arts, Thursday, May 18, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

He added that he believes there is an immediate need for greater oversight of recovery homes as a whole.

Gendron said the department is looking to place the veteran-specific recovery home outside York City.

The home will be run by Bell Socialization Services and monitored by a committee that will include Gendron and representatives from Bell, the Lebanon Veterans Affairs' Judicial Outreach program, alumni of Veterans Treatment Court, York County Adult Probation and other local veterans, according to Gendron.

Sarah Primak, a veterans justice outreach specialist for the Lebanon VA Medical Center, said she's seen great success with York County's approach and is excited about the new project.

In both the specialized treatment court and the veterans-only prison housing unit, Primak said, she's seeing veterans connect with each other and continue supporting each other after leaving the criminal justice system.

Anyone wishing to donate to the cause can send checks addressed to the York County Veterans Fund to 28 E. Market St. in York City, and the York County Veterans Outreach will be hosting a golf tournament fundraiser on Sept. 13 at Heritage Hills Golf Resort.

— Reach reporter David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.