MURRAY – A few days before the start of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, HOPE Calloway made a Veterans Day announcement of a new program to fight the continued problem of homelessness among veterans.
The organization made the surprise announcement during the Veterans of Foreign Wars Herman Eddie Roberts Post 6291 ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Chestnut Park. HOPE Calloway Executive Director Nathan Carter started by giving a quick recap to the gathered crowd of how HOPE Calloway was formed in September 2020 by merging the Gentry House with the Murray-Calloway County Homeless Coalition. Gentry House was founded in 1997 to assist families, while the coalition was formed several years ago to assist people with or without children, opening OpportUNITY House with five apartments for transitional housing in July 2019.
“For the last almost 25 years, we’ve provided transitional housing to individuals who are experiencing or facing homelessness,” Carter told the crowd. “It seemed fitting today to announce that we are launching a new program called ‘HOPE for Veterans’ to provide transitional housing to homeless veterans and their families. Every night in the United States, there are anywhere near 100,000 or more homeless veterans, and we feel like it’s time that we do our part to bring that number just a little bit closer to zero. So we’re very excited about the program. There’s going to be a lot more announcements coming about it, but we wanted to share that with you all first.”
The program will involve so-called “tiny homes,” which are small structures designed to meet a person’s basic living needs while taking up a minimal amount of land. In some parts of the country, organizations assisting the homeless have formed small villages made up of tiny homes, which allow people a safe and secure place to live as they work to get a more stable financial footing. The homes that will be used by the HOPE for Veterans programs are expected to meet the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We do have a ‘tiny home’ that is currently being built that is completely ADA compliant and wheelchair-accessible,” Carter said. “So if we have any veterans and their families who have mobility (related) disabilities, they would be able to access that and have a roof over their heads and a place to sleep.”
HOPE Calloway Client Support Specialist Courtney Kendall, who is a second lieutenant in the Army National Guard, said she was very thankful to get to make the announcement in front of a crowd that was gathered to honor veterans.
“I think it’s going to be great, and I also just want to thank all of my currently serving and past and future service members for their service,” Kendall said. “I know how much of a sacrifice it is, and some of the things you all went through are just more than I could ever talk about. As Nathan mentioned, it will be transitional housing, and with transitional housing, we provide supportive coaching. It can focus on a lot of different areas, but it can be career development, financial wellness, housing stability and personal growth, which is exciting. Also, we know that veterans have special needs and they have been through a lot, so we’ve made sure to build some partnerships with the organizations in the community that help serve our veterans … so we can better serve the veterans when they are in our transitional housing program.”
Carter said the program had been in development for about six months. Kendall said she was going through a nearly five-month basic officer leadership course at Fort Lee, Virginia when Carter gave her a call about the idea. Kendall later visited a place in Shelbyville that has tiny homes for veterans to see what it was all about.
“In the meantime, we had someone call us wanting to donate the funds and labor to donate a tiny home, so I guess it was just kind of the perfect storm,” said HOPE Calloway Board President Jennifer Riley. “It’s a God thing, that it all came together and is working out.”
According to a flyer from the organization, the HOPE for Veterans program will allow veterans and their families the chance to work toward regaining self-sufficiency. The program can last up to 18 months.
“Courtney, Nathan, this is awesome,” Post 6291 Commander Ryan Buchanan said after the announcement. “We are beyond thrilled. I tried to keep my mouth shut about it since I was told about it (before the official announcement). I want to tell you, on behalf of the VFW, any and all support that is needed for this project, do not hesitate to reach out to me and my post members, and we will help accommodate in any way that we can.”
When reached by phone on Friday, Billy Lane Lauffer American Legion Post 73 Commander Bill Cowan said he didn’t know much about the program yet, but veteran homelessness is certainly an issue he is concerned about and one that Post 73 hopes can be prevented by assisting people with claims to the Veterans Administration. He said that while he wasn’t sure exactly how much of a problem veteran homelessness is in Calloway County, people can occasionally be seen at intersections around town asking for money and holding signs saying things like “Homeless Veteran.” He said he often wonders if these people are aware of the services that are available for veterans locally.
“That is something that we’re concerned about, and there are a lot of issues that are facing veterans, which is why we have our two services officers (Mark Kennedy and Lois Wells) there at the American Legion Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” Cowan said. “Service members or their families can come in for counseling and for assistance because there are a lot of things that are available through the VA, like monetary assistance. We routinely file 20 or 30 claims a month for people, particularly with widow pensions. There are many veterans that come in that have medical issues that we help them with, and I’m sure that probably most of the veterans that are homeless have medical issues that are contributing factors. If that’s the case, that’s where we can help out. We don’t have any mechanism for providing monetary support like rent assistance just because they’re homeless, but we can certainly file claims that can help in that direction.”