As you make your way to the Lodestar Day Campus you see people lining the streets, often sleeping under makeshift canopies with all their belongings and waiting for the next meal. Many of these people live on the streets or in nearby shelters and come to the center to find resources and help.
In the midst of this scenario sits an oasis for homeless veterans at the Veterans Outreach Center (VOC).
Albert, a Vietnam veteran, comes to the center every day it’s open. “It’s convenient for me. I come to use the computer so I can look for work,” said Albert. He is a machinist by trade. Albert fell on hard times and started coming to the VOC in August 2016.
Resources for Homeless Veterans
The VOC, open on Mondays, Wednesdays thru Fridays, offers a place to get away from the crowds. Veterans sign in and agree to a follow a code of conduct. They can access coffee, cold water, computers, chargers, snacks and other items.
Veterans visiting the VOC also get help finding resources. Byron visits the VOC to use the computers and the phone, but it’s the community he finds that he needs the most.
“The staff bends over backwards for us,” said Byron. “The VOC is a place where we can get away from everything and hold a decent conversation, it’s our little oasis.”
Byron is on housing waiting list. Soon, he hopes to get a place of his own. Until then, he will stay in shelters or on the streets, escaping to the VOC when possible.
Direction and Support without Judgment
Chuck Ashby, veterans outreach center coordinator, understands what the visiting veterans are going through. Twelve years ago, he was homeless himself. “We provide direction, not judgement. Most of these guys feel invisible and ostracized, some have experienced this for years,” said Ashby.
Ashby, a former teacher, enjoys his current role at the VOC. It often reminds him of his years in the classroom. He finds common ground with each veteran who walks through the doors and then discovers ways to encourage each person for building confidence, learning and moving out of homelessness.
Veterans Find Support
Often, veterans coming to the VOC don’t realize what kind of help they need or what is available. David Blackman, an intern at VOC and a veteran himself, helps veterans navigate everything from accessing their benefits to finding bus routes. “We are here to help these veterans with whatever they need, sometimes that means setting up a phone call, other times it might be working on a resume.”
“Some guys will come in here just to sleep, because they know it’s safe,” said Ashby.
Ray first heard about the VOC from a friend. They would stop in for a cup of coffee in the mornings. Later when Ray fell on hard times, he knew where he could go for help. Ray likes to stay busy and is often found helping at the VOC. The resources are helpful but the comradery sets it apart from other organizations.
Ray recently heard about a job fair while looking for jobs using the VOC computers. He updated his resume, attended the job fair and got the job.
Meeting Practical Needs
The VOC also meets other immediate needs of veterans by providing hygiene kits, clothes and weekly trips to the MANA House where veterans can use the showers, do laundry, use the computers and have a meal.
Once a month, Trilogy Veterans Club, brings a homemade hot meal to the VOC. The club is made up of veterans who wanted to help those who were less fortunate. It’s not just the veterans themselves who get involved, it’s the whole family. This monthly mingle usually feeds 30 veterans, but up to 50 have shown up for meals.
Donations and volunteers are vital to keeping the VOC stocked an operational. Water is always available, and everyone is encouraged to take a couple of bottles with them when they leave.
If you want to get involved and help local veterans, consider becoming a volunteer or give an ongoing monthly gift. Your support will help get veterans off the streets, provide resources and help them make a fresh start.