The Home Depot Foundation's Heather Pritchard details her foundation’s efforts to ensure every veteran has a safe place to call home. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay/The American Legion)

Home Depot stepping up to end veterans homelessness

The fact veterans make up 16 percent of the homeless population is something the Home Depot Foundation takes very seriously. That’s why the foundation has committed $80 million over five years to help eradicate the problem. 

During a briefing to the Legion’s Economic Commission at The American Legion National Convention in Houston, Home Depot’s Heather Pritchard detailed her foundation’s efforts to ensure every veteran has a safe place to call home. “Veterans represent 8 percent of the general population, yet they form 16 percent of the homeless population,” said Pritchard, the manager of National Partnerships and Atlanta Hometown Giving for the foundation. “To us, that is just not good. It is something we need to work together with our partners on fixing. We got 35,000-plus Home Depot (employees) that are veterans, so this is something that is very near and dear to us.”

In 2011, Home Depot made a commitment of $30 million over three years to work with veterans housing initiatives. The company invested the money in less than two years and then committed an additional $50 million last September. That money has gone to more than 1,400 non-profits supporting housing for veterans; Home Depot also has donated more than $20 million in products to similar non-profits through the foundation’s Framing Hope program

Through Team Depot, an employee-led volunteer program, 1,300 projects benefitting veterans have been completed in a little more than two years, impacting 9,000 housing units comprised of transitional housing and shelters, permanent supportive housing, family homes and critical home repairs. Team Depot’s efforts also benefit the Legion.

Since 2011, Home Depot has worked with 139 posts, providing 169 grants totaling more than $1 million across the country. Posts in Escondido, Calif., Houston and Miami received renovations totaling more than $178,000. “We did it alongside The American Legion,” Pritchard said. “It was something we wanted to do as a good neighbor, but the thing that meant the most to us was that somebody came up to us during that time and said, ‘I’ve never really felt thanked for my service before.’” Pritchard urged Legion posts to go to their local Home Depots and talk with either the store manager or Team Depot leader about potential collaborative efforts.

Bringing an end to veteran homelessness also is a goal of Community Solutions, said the organization’s logistics association, Jayce Elliston. A U.S. Army veteran, Elliston said Community Solutions, through its 100,000 Homes initiative, has set a goal of finding homes for 100,000 people – including 20,000 vulnerable and chronically homeless veterans – by July 2014. 

Elliston said 100,000 Homes helps communities by using four principles:

  1. Getting communities to know who is homeless, by name, within the community.
  2. Implementing a housing-first approach.
  3. Tracking progress.
  4. Iproving local assistance, including cutting down on red tape when attempting to get a homeless person into some kind of housing.

100,000 Homes has partnered with 214 communities, as well as several Department of Veterans Affairs’ veterans integrated service networks. The results: 65,000 chronically homeless people have been housed permanently – including 18,000 veterans. Elliston said the Legion plays an important role in the fight to end homelessness.

“The American Legion helps the veterans feel like they’re not alone,” he said. “Veterans on the street feel isolated and feel like they don’t have anywhere to go. The American Legion is a safe haven for them to be able to talk to people … and it’s also a place where they can do community service. It can help them get a job in the future.”

Elliston also pointed out Legion Post 38 in Fort Myers, Fla., which collects pots and pans, furniture and other household items to create move-in kits for veterans moving into housing. Protecting veterans from fraud also was discussed during the meeting. The commission heard from Maame Frimpong, deputy assistant attorney general in the Consumer Protection Branch of the Department of Justice, other Justice Department staff, officials from the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Federal Trade Commission, and the Texas Consumer Protection Division.

“Obviously, we take all of our victims seriously,” said Randi Russell, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. “But when it involves the men and women who fought for and protected the freedoms we enjoy every day, it’s especially important we get those people out there defrauding our veterans.”

The commission also heard from documentary filmmaker Dulanie Ellis of Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields. Ellis created a film featuring several U.S. servicemembers who found an outlet in farming once they left the military. The mission of Ground Operations is to strengthen the growing network of combat veterans transitioning into new careers in sustainable farming and ranching. Ellis asked Legionnaires to spread the word about her program by screening her film in communities across the country. 

Farmer Veteran Coalition founder Michael O’Gorman explained his organization’s mission, which is to provide veteran outreach to mobilize veterans to feed America through sustainable farming, leading to a smooth military transition into civilian life. “If you’re a farmer, we’d love to hear from you,” O’Gorman said. “We need mentors.” 

Eddie Trevin of the USDA talked about the variety of lending programs available to aspiring farmers.