Welcome To Broncos Nation!           SPRING 2017-18  The UGHS Broncos Stampede is your online newsletter featuring stories written by students for students!

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Stampede Archives

Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin
Provides Hope To Those In Need

By Jaye Buckner

Five years ago, the Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin organization knew something had to be done to help Veterans who were struggling to find their place back into civilian life. Many Veterans find themselves homeless due to financial and medical challenges they have faced post-service.
Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin is committed to assisting homeless and at-risk Veterans strive for normalcy by providing food, clothing, shelter, and other basic human needs.

It started out as a bookshelf filled with canned goods, and a drive to aid members of the community who have risked their lives to serve their country. Today, the program has expanded to a pantry that has provided nearly 100,000 pounds of food in this year alone, a community center providing supportive financial and personal aid, and 15 tiny homes where residents can stay while they work towards getting themselves back on their feet and starting their life again.

The Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin has worked tirelessly since December of 2013 to provide support to local homeless and at-risk veterans. Currently, they are centered in Racine, WI, but hope to expand their program to Milwaukee and other surrounding areas in order to continue providing care to those who need it the most.

The food pantry at the Veterans Outreach provides meals to nearly 250 clients each week, all homeless and struggling veterans who are able to come in and get the extra help they need to feed themselves and their families. Currently, the food pantry is in the main building of the Outreach, but they just bought a warehouse across the street where they plan to hold the food and toiletries as their current location is becoming crowded. A lot of work still needs to be done to fix up the new building, but board member Les Hendrington says they hope to have it up and running by the end of this year. The Outreach is always looking for donations to add to their stock, whether it be canned goods, fresh produce, toiletries, or clothes to provide to the veterans.

The center is home to 15 veterans working through a two year program to gain financial security and their own permanent housing after finding themselves down on their luck after returning home from their service. The tiny homes are a place for rehabilitation, not intended to be a permanent residence. While staying at the Veterans Outreach, vets are provided with a number of services that help them get back on their feet, including support group meetings, therapy, financial workshops, time with therapy dogs, and time with one-on-one financial advisors. Because post traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction is common among veterans, the Veterans Outreach strives to provide support for these issues, holding AA and DA meetings for those who wish to attend. They also help in finding employment opportunties, with a number of employers calling the center looking for help. All of these resources are provided to the residents and the community, but it is up to the veterans themselves to take advantage of the opportunities and actively work towards rehabilitation, which creates a system of support while keeping the men and women independent. Those working at the Veterans Outreach did not want to make their center feel like an institution, but rather as a home and a place of comfort for the vets, while still allowing them to socialize and not isolate themselves in their homes.

Walking through the tiny home village, you immediately notice there is a lot of green space. This was another conscious decision on the part of the volunteers at the village, again to promote the comfortable feeling of home. There is a garden near the center of the village, which is kept up by the residents themselves. There is also a number of benches and tables for the vets to sit at during their off time to socialize with other residents and get some fresh air. Currently, the village in Racine will not be building additional tiny homes beyond those already planned, with the intention of keeping the space from feeling overcrowded and uncomfortable.

One resident, Alex, spoke on the tiny home village: “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Alex is currently working towards full independence, after going from shelter to shelter for quite some time. He said that the village is nothing like other homeless shelters, as it provides a family-like environment, with enough community to keep it from being isolating like at other shelters. He emphasized that vets are given a good combination of services and opportunities for spirituality, the freedom of movement, while also having a personal spot to stay and make their own. Alex is an avid reader, with a number of self help books on a shelf in his tiny home. As many veterans have, Alex struggled with addiction after returning home. Service leaves many with unchecked traumas that turn them to drugs and alcohol when they are unable to find any other outlet. What Alex wants the community to understand is that everyone makes mistakes- many of these people just get caught up in their issues and make bad decisions based on their situations. “We just want to have peace and quiet like everyone else,” he says, as he works towards full rehabilitation. An important aspect of the tiny home village is that residents have to want to get help and improve, and these services are provided to those that seek them out. The availability of the aid allows people to get back on their feet and make a change in their life for the better.

“It’s a great place to do a 180.”

The biggest challenge the Outreach has faced over the years, according to Executive Director Jeff Gustin, has been financial. Because it is a local nonprofit organization, rather than a national one, getting their word out into the public has been a struggle, and the budget is tight. Donations are always graciously welcomed, but the biggest help is support to those who the organization serves- the brave men and women who have fought for their country. These are members of the community who have put their lives on the line, and now need a helping hand. The need for aid is ever present- according to the most recent survey taken by the Census Beaura, there are some 50,000 homeless veterans in the United States at any given moment, with veterans making up 19% of the homeless population in Wisconsin, higher than the national average of 14%. There is a great stigma and shame attatched to homelessness, but what the Outreach pushes people to realize is that it can happen to anyone. “Remember that bad things happen to good people,” says Gustin, emphasizing that everyone deserves support and care. The community has been greatly supportive of the organization, coming through with donations and help, even without being asked.

This cause has not gone unnoticed by our very own community. Recently, the UGHS National Honor Society officers presented a check to Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin in the amount of $10,613.00.
This money was raised through the hard work by the members of NHS and advisor, Mr. Delponte. The check was proudly presented to the representatives of the Veterans Outreach Racine office in front of our entire staff and student body.

There are currently two veterans who have successfully made it through the two year program and are now on their own, with many more expected to follow. However, at the Outreach, they consider just taking that first step and coming to the center for help to be a success story.

The Veterans Outreach continues to work hard towards aiding homeless veterans in their struggle to return their lives to normalcy and comfort. Support from the community is greatly encouraged and valued, so this organization can continue to provide assistance to those who have put their lives on the line to defend their home.

The Broncos Stampede would like to encourage anyone with the opportunity to visit the tiny homes village and the Veterans Outreach to experience it first hand. Words cannot fully describe the impact this organization has made, and pictures do not do it justice. It is a remarkable and eye opening sight, to see the kindness and hard work that goes into serving the community and improving the world. They are doing incredible work, and it really does speak for itself.

Photos: Lucas Martin

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