In October 2016, a Louisville television station aired the story of a veteran who was living in a small shed on his property. The veteran, whose home was destroyed by flood, had been taken advantage of by a construction company that promised to raise his home above flood level and rebuild it. After the company had removed all the brick from the outside and gutted the inside, they took his money and left him with an uninhabitable house. This story captured the attention of many organizations that wanted to help. Representatives from the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council (GLCLC), Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA), Kentucky Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Housing Partnership, Inc. (HPI), and other local organizations began to meet on a regular basis to brainstorm how resources could be merged to help not only this veteran, but also, almost 200 other homeless veterans in the area.
As a result of the partnership of these agencies, HPI purchased a home through public auction and began renovation in June 2017, hoping to turn the house into a home for a homeless veteran. Within days of beginning the project, a homeless veteran came to KDVA searching for assistance in finding a place to live. She had lost her job, her home, and her hope. We quickly began talking with her about this first home project and she was very interested. Now, we had the house and the veteran to complete this first project successfully.
Our first workday was a “volunteer/demolition day.” We advertised through social media and local organizations for volunteers to rip out walls, tear down siding, remove windows, and pull off the roof. We were hoping to have at least 25 volunteers for this first day of work. We had 75 volunteers show up to help that day! It was breathtaking to watch these volunteers, most of whom had never met until that day, work together on this great project for an awesome cause. Within four hours, the house was ready for us to start construction.
Over the next several months, hundreds of volunteers worked thousands of volunteer hours on this project. Local unions from all trades pitched in to help.
With donations of cash and materials and lots of sweat and hard work, we were able to complete the home and help the veteran move in on Veterans Day, November 11, 2017.
By bringing together all of these groups and organizations to work with one goal in mind, a veteran who, otherwise, may still be sleeping in her car is now in stable, affordable housing. We realized that we can make a difference, even if it is one veteran at a time.
This group, now called Operation Victory, has committed to continue its efforts to house as many veterans as possible. This year, Operation Victory is working on another home for a female veteran and her infant. Our hope is to have them in their new, warm home before Christmas in order to provide them with a memorable holiday.
According to the 2018 K-Count, a point-in-time count of the homeless across the state coordinated by Kentucky Housing Corporation, there are approximately 3,688 homeless people in Kentucky. Of those, approximately 369, about 10 percent, are veterans. There are approximately 129 homeless veterans in Jefferson County alone.
A common question asked by many people is, “Who are the veterans that are homeless?” According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), around 45 percent of homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic; in Kentucky, this would be about 166 veterans. Nationally, about 9 percent, or about 33 in Kentucky, are females. Almost half, about 45 percent, of homeless veterans are between the ages of 31 and 50; in Kentucky, that is about 166 veterans.
Another common question is, “What leads veterans to become homeless?” The NCHV reports that there are several leading factors that impact homelessness for our veterans. First, nationally, there is an extreme shortage of affordable housing available for our returning veterans. Second, many veterans live with the effects of post-traumatic stress (PTSD), substance abuse, or mental health issues, and have difficulty accessing health care to manage the symptoms, which might impact their ability to maintain stable housing. Finally, many veterans have difficulty finding civilian jobs that will accept the transferable skills from their military training, which makes finding consistent employment and achieving a livable income a challenge.
Taking care of our veterans is the sole mission of KDVA, which established the Homeless Veteran Program in the early 2000s to help returning veterans overcome the challenges of finding and maintaining stable housing. As the KDVA Homeless Veteran Program Coordinator, I collaborate with other organizations to help identify homeless veterans and assess their needs. KDVA provides referral assistance to organizations that can assist veterans with housing. KDVA also assists homeless veterans with medical placement if they suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues. Because KDVA has the expertise and knowledge to help veterans obtain government benefits, including monthly disability and/or pension checks, we can help homeless veterans obtain a reliable income from these ongoing benefits, which can be the foundation of avoiding homelessness. In some situations, KDVA is able to help homeless or at-risk veterans with financial assistance that assists with rent, deposits, and utilities.
If you or your organization is looking for a place to volunteer your services, Operation Victory is renovating at least four more houses for veterans in 2019. We recruit and welcome new volunteers to join us in this journey. You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/opvictoryKY/ or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you know a veteran who could benefit through Operation Victory?
Would you like to help or volunteer to help homeless veterans through Operation Victory?