Federal grant helps homeless veterans re-enter workforce

Easter Seals Oregon has been awarded a $200,000 grant by the federal government to continue its mission of helping homeless veterans in the Rogue Valley rejoin the workforce.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced the grant on Tuesday as part of a $15 million job-training Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program to help some 8,600 homeless veterans across the country.

"The men and women who have served our country with distinction should not have to struggle to find good jobs when they return from service," said Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis in a teleconference with the media, including the Mail Tribune. "These grants will help homeless veterans gain access to meaningful employment and more stable post-military lives."

The program's grantees will provide homeless veterans with occupational, classroom and on-the-job training, as well as job search and placement assistance and follow-up services, she said.

The funding, which is expected to be awarded on July 1, allows the local program to continue its mission, said Katie Shepard, Rogue Valley area director for Easter Seals Oregon.

"It is a testimonial to our community that the Labor Department recognizes our need and our commitment," she said. "But we could not do this program without our network of partners in this area."

The local Easter Seals Oregon center works closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City and a host of other local partners to help veterans, she noted. The new funding will allow Easter Seals and its partners to hit the ground running, she added.

The Easter Seals Oregon program is well regarded, said Mike Twiss, chief of social work and coordinator of the veterans' homeless program at the SORCC. The facility also has several programs to help homeless veterans.

"There are all ranges of homeless veterans out there," he said. "The majority are Vietnam (war) era or post-Vietnam who have clinical medical problems."

Thanks to a nationwide effort launched three years ago by the Obama administration, there has been a decrease in homeless veterans on the streets, he said. There are fewer than 60,000 homeless veterans now, compared with about 90,000 three years ago, according to the Labor Department.

Programs like the one employed by Easter Seals are helping around the nation, he said.

Since the local Easter Seals program aimed at helping homeless veterans began three years ago, they have assisted 286 veterans, of whom 86 were able to obtain a job and stay employed.

Success of the program can't simply be measured in terms of employment since other achievements in the program include making amends with loved ones, completing schooling, overcoming addiction, giving back to the community or even getting married, according to Easter Seals Oregon.

The point, Shepard said, is that treating veterans with the respect they deserve goes a long way in helping them back on their feet.

"These veterans have just run into barriers in life," she said. "Because they faced homelessness does not make them less. They still deserve respect and dignity as all our nation's heroes do."

The group's goal in the next three years is to dramatically increase the numbers of homeless veterans they're able to help, she indicated.

Like Twiss, she said the homeless veterans come in all ages.

"It's pretty heartbreaking — at last two dozen are under 35," she said. "A lot of them are combat vets. They just didn't adjust well to life after serving overseas."

Many suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, addiction problems or military sexual trauma, she said.

"In general, the veterans we work with are eager and ready to work," Shepard said.

Employees will find employment-ready, prescreened, prequalified applicants ready to work through the program, she said.

To donate clothing, gifts, funds or to learn more about the local program, contact Shepard at 541-842-2199, extension 301 or kshepard@or.easterseals.com.

To hire a veteran from the program, contact John Gallo at 541-842-2199, extension 305 or jgallo@or.easterseals.com.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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