Friday, August 31, 2001

Helping hands for veterans in N.Ky.

By Scott Wartman
Enquirer Contributor

        NEWPORT — On an overcast August afternoon, social workers Ray Scott and John Briggs left a Newport apartment with somber expressions.

        They had just met with a 57-year-old Army veteran who was about to be evicted after losing his carpenter's job because of kidney and liver problems.

        The veteran, they predict, is three weeks away from living on the streets, a situation that could be fatal because of his health.

        “If we don't do something soon, this guy will be in an utterly desperate situation,” Mr. Briggs said. “What you are seeing is homelessness three weeks beforehand.”

        As employees of the newly formed Northern Kentucky chapter of the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, Mr. Scott of Covington and Mr. Briggs of Finneytown are in a race to find housing and a job for the veteran.

        The homeless veterans program is run by Ohio Valley Goodwill Services. It was established in Cincinnati in 1993 and operates in it and 37 other U.S. cities.

        The Ohio Valley program has placed about 1,000 of Cincinnati's homeless veterans in jobs and housing. In July, it received a $274,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand into Northern Kentucky.

        Charles Blythe hopes that this year the program will take at least 100 veterans off Northern Kentucky streets and find them jobs.

        “If you get them off the street, give them the ability to get a bath and pull the best out of them, then they can accomplish just as much as any other person,” said Mr. Blythe, Goodwill's manager of special projects,

        Since Aug. 13, at least 30 veterans have been interviewed and are being assessed for assistance needs. To receive aid, the veteran needs to be homeless or in danger of being homeless.

        Five of the program's seven paid staff members are veterans.

        All staffers carry pagers so a veteran can reach any of them at any time for emotional support.

        “Any man or woman who has served our country has gone the extra mile for us,” Mr. Blythe said. “We should go the extra mile for them.”

        Donald Julious, 48, of Walnut Hills, went through the program in 1999.

        Before then, Mr. Julious said, his life was fraught with prison time and unemployment. After a stay at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cincinnati in 1999, Mr. Julious joined Goodwill and is lead custodian at Ohio Valley Goodwill Services.

        He credits the program with helping him get his life

        back on track. Because of his experiences, he said, he has developed bonds with many of the people passing through Goodwill's gates.

        “I'll be there for whatever they need,” Mr. Julious said. “I'll be a shoulder if they need a shoulder, and I'll give them an ear if they need an ear.”

        The nation has an estimated 271,000 homeless veterans, said Donald Whitehead, president of the National Coalition for the Homeless. Post-traumatic stress syndrome and disabilities incurred in combat greatly contributed to that number, he said.

        Programs such as this one are shedding light on the problem, said Heather French Henry, wife of Lt. Gov. Steve Henry and former Miss America 2000.

        “They are coming out of the woodwork because of the programs, and that's a good thing,” Ms. Henry said.

        She is the daughter of a Viet nam veteran and has lobbied lawmakers for more support for homeless veterans.

        She called the Goodwill program a first step in supporting these veterans and erasing homelessness among them.


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