the ‘Campaign To Bring Our Veterans All the Way Home’
The Vietnam War taught us lessons, but not only about combat. We watched a generation of young people return home with permanent physical and emotional scars. Now, with troops scheduled to return from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Homeless Empowerment Program (HEP) is preparing for the effects of a new type of veteran as well as the types of long-term problems many will face through The Campaign to Bring Our Veterans All the Way Home..
“We have an entire generation of veterans who have been bouncing around in the system; some for thirty years. With the Afghan and Iraq wars now ten years old, and with close to three million men and women who served, we know there is going to be a significant influx of homelessness,” says HEP previous Chairman of the Board, Bruce Fyfe. “Twenty percent may come home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and brain related injuries.”
With mental health services better dedicated to serving the needs of the current veteran population, proper diagnoses and care are now better available for these young men and women.
“Homelessness is a symptom. Too many shelters think the problem is there are people on the street,” Fyfe says. “The reality is we have people with addiction, illness, job loss–circumstances they cannot get themselves out of. Just giving them a bed and a meal does not solve the problem. We want to be the last homeless shelter that someone needs. We believe we are going to build a benchmark program people will look at as an example to avoid a generation of homelessness.”
Fyfe’s Commitment Is Personal
Fyfe is passionate about his work, and he understands all too well what so many families are going through. After serving three tours in Iraq, his 24 year-old son, Brendan, a marine, died of a heroin overdose. Like many who’ve experienced combat, Brendan returned home and self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. He alienated himself from family and friends.
“Brendan was diagnosed with severe PTSD,” says Fyfe. “I didn’t know a lot about it at the time. I know too much about it now.”
Being proactive has already proven successful, and Fyfe knows that The Campaign to Bring Our Veterans All the Way Home is the next step in solving homelessness. So far, approximately one million dollars has been raised toward a $3.4 million goal to provide additional housing for men and women returning home from current wars.
New HEP Housing Planned
Staff and volunteers have been working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to understand the needs and develop a type of housing better fitted to a younger generation of veterans. A residential building will be built on the 8-acre Clearwater campus, which will include 32 single occupancy rooms and will have a separate club house.
The HEP program’s success is due to many factors. Veterans are provided with intensive case management, and for several reasons, one being the ratio of one case worker to 20 clients. HEP has found ways to bring in volunteers in highly needed support services. For example, approximately 25 dentists volunteer to serve residents and provide over $310,000 of free dental care per year.
Residents receive financial and legal assistance from volunteer bankers and attorneys. Morton Plant Mease has partnered to provide medical care. The medical cost savings to the community alone is estimated at approximately two million dollars per year because it impacts lowering emergency room visits and overnight hospital stays.
A mental health substance abuse treatment program is in place, with five full time mental health and addiction specialists. There are after school care and summer camps for the children, and HEP accepts bicycle donations from the community for its bicycle recycling and distribution program so that many veterans have reliable transportation. They also cover many basic costs with proceeds from an onsite thrift store. (By the way this project has since been completed after the original story was written.)
Helping Both Veterans and the Homeless
“We’ve been helping veterans since we started helping homeless people,” says Fyfe. “HEP is uniquely positioned to help. We work closely with the Veterans Administration to provide a full continuum of care. Someone can come in on an emergency basis and within three days they will have a case management plan. We get them stabilized and most get back in a productive situation, whether it’s within days, years or whatever time it takes to get better. ”
The new building’s open air porches and beautifully landscaped grounds will give the returning vets the opportunity to recuperate from traumas suffered on the battlefield. “That is phase one,” says Fyfe. “Phase two may be more apartments for families. But there never seems to be enough housing for what we see coming through the door.”
Fyfe’s nephew , Alec Labdon will soon return home from Iraq. Fyfe calls Alec his son and is looking forward to his return. “These kids shouldn’t find themselves in such circumstances, but we know the need is going to be substantial and will last a long time,” he says. “I am confident that this is going to work. I knew that the day my son died. Just because they have come home doesn’t mean they are all the way home. These kids deserve to come all the way home.”
For more information on the Homeless Empowerment Program and The Campaign to Bring Our Veterans All The Way Home, visit www.ethep.org
How to help: HEP is always looking for volunteers and they appreciate your tax deductible financial gifts, which can be mailed to HEP, 1120 North Betty Lane, Clearwater, FL 33755. HEP also accepts non-perishable food items and community donations of gently used clothing and household goods. If you would like to donate to their thrift store call (727)442-9041 x330 or visit 1212 North Betty Lane, Clearwater, FL 33755.
Story written by Laura Kepner for Destination Tampa Bay magazine explaining the many benefits this organization brings to our community. Photos provided by HEP
For the story about HEP’s recent award click here. Here is another story about a special Dentist that Volunteered at HEP. For other great organization in the Destination Tampa Bay area consider reading about Habitat for Pinellas.