Local charity gives homeless vets home, new beginnings

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class R. Alex Durbin
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are between 131,000 and 200,000 homeless veterans living in the United States on any given night, and approximately twice that amount will experience homelessness over the course of a year.

The estimate of homeless veterans is equal to 11 times the population of Joint Base Langley Eustis. On a larger scale, the number is equivalent to one out of every seven active-duty U.S. Service members Department of Defense wide.

Service members are taught to rely on and look out for their Wingmen, Battle Buddies or Shipmates. Homeless veterans can represent an opportunity for others to take care of those who defended their country when called upon.

Vetshouse, a local charity in Virginia Beach, Va., aims to combat homelessness by offering veterans in the Hampton Roads area a chance to get back on their feet.

"Vetshouse is a nonprofit, 12-month transitional housing program for homeless veterans," said Willard Smith, Vetshouse executive director. "Our goal is to bring veterans off the streets and give them a jump start on life."

The charity is self-sufficient and requires each participating vet to find a job within 30 days, aiding them if they cannot find employment. Those in the program are also required to buy their own food, maintain the homes they are staying in and provide rent to cover house expenses during their stay.

Since its founding in 1990, the program has aided 875 veterans and now owns three homes that house 22 veterans.

Although the homeless population is primarily male, Smith said the number of homeless female veterans is on the rise. To accommodate them, Vetshouse plans to open a new home for female veterans in May.

While the charity provides opportunities for veterans to get back on their feet, Smith and the Vetshouse staff aim to prevent veterans from slipping back into harmful habits.

"One of the largest contributors of homelessness is substance and alcohol abuse," said Smith "[Tenants] who have been treated for drug or alcohol abuse must attend our in-house [Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous] meetings three times a week."

Smith, a U.S. Navy veteran, said he knows from experience the importance of treating the problem at the source.

"After I returned home from five tours in Vietnam, I was the biggest 'booze baby' in Tidewater. Luckily, I realized alcohol only dulled problems and when you sobered up, they were still there," he said. "If that light bulb didn't go off, it could have been me living in the streets."

For veterans like Alexander Snead, a Vetshouse graduate and U.S. Army veteran, the program provides the tools necessary to succeed.

"My alcoholism took ahold of me and I went to the streets because I was too embarrassed to go home," said Sneed. "It's been six years and am working and I am alcohol and drug free. Vetshouse gave me that opportunity."

Although the problem of homelessness in America is ongoing and may seem daunting, Smith and the Vetshouse program staff will continue to strive to reach their goal of housing veterans and helping those who donned a military uniform find a new beginning.

For more information or to make a donation, call 757-306-1000.