U.S. VETS helps homeless veterans become self sufficient
As Joe Gatens, outreach coordinator for U.S. VETS, visited with homeless veterans at the Salvation Army in Prescott during breakfast on a recent Tuesday, he let them choose from soap, toothpaste, and deodorant, and then reminded them that U.S. VETS is ready to help them when they're ready.
Gaines, who served in the U.S. Army's Special Forces during the Vietnam War, said about 15 to 20 percent of the chronically homeless in the area are veterans.
"A lot of them are camping out, many are older, and most have health issues," Gatens said. "I basically talk to them about how we can help them, and services they can get through us and the VA when they're ready."
U.S. VETS is a transitional housing facility with 58 beds where veterans can stay for as long as two years as they work their way toward self sufficiency with individual case management, access to healthcare, resolving legal matters, stabilizing mental health, maintaining sobriety, working through transportation issues, and finding and maintaining employment, said Tim Prater, program director with U.S. VETS.
"Most need the full two years, but we have had a few veterans come through who only needed several months until they found work and housing," Prater said.
One man who graduated from U.S. VETS is working at the Bob Stump Memorial Veterans Administration Medical Center, and is now pursuing his master's degree, Prater said.
Chris Wells, a homeless vet with health issues, said he'd already used up his 10 days at a local shelter that month, so he was camping outside city limits until next month.
"It gets old," Wells said. "You have to be careful the deputies don't find you and tell you to move, and that young people don't find your camp and destroy your stuff."
Gatens urged him to give U.S. VETS a call.
"It can't hurt," Gatens said.
Chris Carter, who went through U.S. VETS and now helps the homeless, said he wished there was something in the Prescott area like Central Arizona Shelter Services, where people can receive shelter and support services to find work and live independently again.
"As far as where the city council is at on any of the homeless projects, we don't currently have any of those meetings going on," said Joe Brehm, a management analyst with the City of Prescott. "When we did have those meetings, that kind of issue was at a boiling point at the time, and the mayor had created this kind of ad-hoc committee with community members to discuss the issue."
If the new council indicated the issue was a priority, committee meetings could start up again, but it would have to be at the council's direction, Brehm said.
Prater said the Yavapai County Homeless Coalition has been meeting to see how agencies in the community can better meet the needs of the homeless.
"Plenty of organizations feed the homeless, but we don't have enough transitional, family, or long-term shelters," Prater said.
Josh Urias, a homeless young man, said he'd been camping with Wells so they could watch out for each other.
"I've been searching for work and going on interviews, but it's a dead giveaway that I'm homeless when I show up carrying bags with clothing in them or a heavy backpack," said Urias, who asked what happened to plans to build storage lockers and create a transportation system.
"As far as any other large scale projects like the transportation or the storage lockers, we don't have any movement on those as of yet," Brehm said about those items that had been discussed by the nonprofits as part of the committee looking into homeless issues last year.
Meanwhile, Gatens continues his efforts to draw more homeless veterans to the program, refer them to resources, and provide sample-sized toiletries. Donations of fingernail clippers, bandages, combs, and regular razors and blades would be greatly appreciated for the outreach program, Gatens said.
Prater said he's trying to get the veterans out in the community more with field trips to places like the Highlands Center, volunteer work, and creating a softball team to play in the Prescott adult league, and would appreciate donations of softball equipment toward that.
"We want to give homeless veterans a hand up, not a hand out," Prater said. "You need a safe place to sleep, and somewhere to eat before you can work on other issues."
For more information about U.S. VETS or to donate, call Prater, 928-445-4860, ext. 5903, e-mail him at email@example.com, or go to the website www.usvetsinc.org.