Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has set a goal of completely eradicating veterans homelessness. That isn't going to happen overnight, but projects like the Jackson Street Commons – a Kokomo, Ind.-based 27-room long-term or permanent home for homeless veterans – is a step in the right direction.
And thanks to American Legion Riders Chapter 60 in nearby Logansport, that process is going even a little bit smoother. The chapter recently made a donation of $3,000 to sponsor an apartment at the facility, meaning that when the $3.3 million facility opens in May, that room will be completely furnished and ready to house a fellow veteran.
"Unfortunately, there's a need for this," said Mark Harmon, Chapter 60's director. "We're just here to try to help veterans. I don't think people sometimes realize what it costs to be free in this country. For those of us who do recognize that, it's nice to be able to give back to those veterans that maintain our freedom."
The facility is open to honorably discharged disabled veterans. In addition to 27 individual apartments – each with a bedroom separate from a living area – Jackson Street Commons will include a community kitchen, laundry room, coffee bar, communal living areas, supportive service suites, a food pantry, reception area, a library with computers and books, a laundry room and an outdoor social area.
The project uses a "Housing First" model, which provides a home first and then provides the residents with services that will help them recover and become self sufficient. Those services will include substance-abuse help, vocational rehab and disability services. Homeless veterans from four different counties – Howard, Miami, Cass and Tipton – will be eligible to live in the facility.
Rick Baker, Chapter 60's ride coordinator and a 35-year Legionnaire, first heard of the project through fellow Legion Riders in Kokomo and brought it to Chapter 60's attention. "We'd been looking since we established this chapter (in 2011) for something to spend our money on," Baker said. "We kind of rushed to get this pushed through in a meeting.
"I know (the facility) won't be near big enough. But it's a start."
The post did a series of fundraisers for the project, including an annual ride reminiscent of a mini-Legacy Run, solicited items from local merchants that can be raffled off, and conducted monthly cash drawings. "We've been very fortunate that the members we've had are willing to work pretty hard to generate that money," said Dick Harmon, Mark's brother and Chapter 60's treasurer.
Judy Dennis, executive director of Family Service Association of Kokomo – one of the government agencies overseeing the facility – said donations such as Chapter 60's are vital to the project.
"The help like that of The American Legion ... keeps us able to focus on raising funds for other construction concerns and staff needs that we would have to revert those funds to if we didn't have other organizations donating it," she said. "Once that construction is done, we can open those doors and residents will be able to have a completely furnished apartment they can walk into. Obviously these homeless veterans don't have furniture ... and so when an organization like the Legion donates that, it takes a load off our shoulders to be able to focus our attention on finding those residents, being able to help them in other ways – social needs and support needs – and being able to know that they're going to get the help they need."
Angela Harmon, Mark's wife and the communications director for Chapter 60, said the donation – and publicity surrounding it – has a ripple effect for the chapter. "I think it makes more people more inclined to get involved," she said. "They can help and contribute, and that just blossoms out."
Chapter 60's involvement with Jackson Street Commons won't stop with the donation. The Riders plan on occasionally stopping by the facility, perhaps bringing coffee and donuts with them "just to let them know they're not forgotten and that there are people out there that care about them," Mark Harmon said.
A plaque listing Chapter 60 as the sponsor will go up on the door of the apartment. And Chapter 60's donation keeps the apartment furnished for the lifetime of the facility. "That was one of the things that we really thought was kind of nice about this: That we were able to contribute to something that will be there long after we're gone," Mark Harmon said. "It provides lasting assistance to someone. We've been able to do some pretty good things, but this is the topper."