“One of our best outcomes involves a homeless female veteran who was on the streets for three years. We were able to offer her housing and gain service connection compensation, which allowed her to find permanent housing,” Williams says. “This was a nine-year Army veteran, unaware that she was even eligible for veterans’ benefits.”
Williams told about another Army veteran who received automotive and small engine training. “He now has permanent housing and operates his own small engine mobile repair business.”
Williams, who served in the United States Air Force, first reached out to hospitalized veterans at McGuire VA Medical Center over 12 years ago, when he began visiting long-term care patients in the traumatic brain injury unit. A husband, father of two sons, and scoutmaster, Williams and his Boy Scout troop distributed food to homeless veterans in Monroe Park on weekends. The manager and realtor used to operate an assisted living facility in Richmond, and he still owns that business. These days, however, he dedicates much of his time to serving veterans.
Williams founded the Veterans Center on Chamberlayne Avenue in 2009. Here, a volunteer staff offer veterans from WWII to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the kind of counseling, training, transitional services, and important financial and benefits information that can help these men and women set off on a path to fulfillment.
The multi-purpose facility currently has a six-bed capacity, but Williams’ goal is to build dormitory-style transitional housing for veterans in need of shelter. According to Williams, a recent national poll revealed that nearly 60 percent of veterans surveyed had been homeless at least once in the past three years. Furthermore, with the returning Iraq and Afghanistan military personnel, Williams expects an uptick in the center’s client roster and volunteer workload.
“We have a great burden to help veterans who may be homeless and/or disabled and guide them to a self-sustaining lifestyle,” Williams says. “Our goal is to help veterans achieve success as they integrate back into society.”
To that end, Williams notes that next to the center is an automotive repair training site for homeless veterans interested in minor auto repairs as an entry-level career. Other training opportunities are available in welding and commercial painting. Along with vocational training, Williams says professional and personal development skills are introduced to help veterans transition into civilian life.
“Once training is finished, job placement is desired. Ultimately, follow-up will be completed by the DLW Veteran Outreach Center staff,” Williams says, adding that all of the training modules are designed with a goal of reducing homelessness among the veteran population.
Williams adds that the need for veterans’ services is on the rise, noting that until recently Vietnam veterans made up the largest population of homeless veterans.
“Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are now documented as requesting the services provided by homeless shelters, feeding programs, and social services,” Williams says. “With an increase of women in the military, women and women with children are a growing group of the homeless population. Not only is transitional housing a major desire for homeless male veterans, but now training services, as well as transitional housing for women and women with children is greatly needed.”