'An amazing success story'

In Colorado Springs – where close to 10 inches of snow hit the ground Nov. 17 while temperatures dipped into the 20s and the winds ripped at more than 60 miles per hour – the weather can make life on the street less than ideal.

“When you’ve got a guy living in a tent down along the creek, that’s pretty nasty,” Department of Colorado Senior Vice Commander Jay Bowen said.

That’s why, Bowen said, the Legion’s partnership with the Colorado Veterans Resource Coalition (CVRC) – and, specifically, the Crawford House – is so important.

Crawford House, which falls under the guidance of CVRC, provides emergency housing for veterans who are homeless and receiving mental health care, and also provides a temporary structured living environment for veterans in Department of Veterans Affairs-provided substance abuse rehabilitation. The facility was named for William Crawford, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient from Pueblo, Colo.

The CVRC was formed in 2000 and initially could help three veterans at a time. Now, on any given day, approximately 20 veterans can be housed at Crawford House and its additional buildings.

Veterans going through VA’s substance abuse program can stay for the duration of the program, while homeless veterans can stay up to 90 days while they obtain housing and employment.

The American Legion has been a part of the coalition since its inception; Legionnaires Bowen and Jim Tackett both serve on the CVRC board of directors.

“One of our Four Pillars is taking care of veterans,” said Bowen, a member of Legion Post 209 in Colorado Springs and the CVRC board vice president. “I think this program, the Crawford House, epitomizes with what that’s all about. We take care of veterans here. Sadly it’s homeless veterans, and that’s two words you never want to see together. The realism is it exists. We have to be involved in programs such as this to help our veterans get off the street and return back into society.”

Post 209 is heavily involved in the Crawford House, but Bowen is quick to note that posts throughout District 7 also play a big part in making the facility successful.

“We have multiple fundraisers throughout the year,” Bowen said. “We do clothing fundraisers, linens, that type of stuff. We also support (Crawford House) through food drives – especially throughout the holidays. We have volunteers that come over to help serve and prepare the meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Vicky Pettis – Crawford House’s executive director, an Army retiree and member of Post 209 – said the Legion’s contributions at her facility make a big impact. “They’ve helped us in many ways: doing fundraisers for us, participating and volunteering during the holidays,” she said.

Through a grant written by Pettis, Legion members and the community also teamed up with Home Depot to build two gardens and lay sod and stones at the Crawford House, and put in new windows and doors, painted, and provided a new washer, dryer and oven to the coalition’s property on Fontmore Street in Colorado Springs.

“It’s very crucial,” Pettis said of the Legion-Home Depot efforts. “We have a waiting list (and) our funds are limited.”

There is a waiting list because the program works, said Crawford House Program Director Dietrich Edwards. He points to the fact that all of Crawford House’s shift managers went through the program themselves.

Edwards also said the Legion’s presence at the facility makes a big difference. “The volunteer element is very strong, and it’s one of the most important factors that allows the program to continue to run as smoothly as it does,” said Edwards, an Army retiree. “The American Legion … also provides us with administrative support. There’s some very intelligent individuals within The American Legion, and they’re able to provide us with some guidance … to help our program run smoothly. So we utilize them as much as we can.”

Jim Tackett, a member of Post 209, has been president of the CVRC’s board since the beginning.

“I just kind of stay out of the way and make sure things in the background run properly,” he said.

But as board president, Tackett knows the impact the Legion’s involvement makes on Crawford House – and not just on the bottom line. “Let’s not get tied up on all the volunteer work they do,” he said. “When veterans see they get support from other veterans, it adds to their well-being. (Financially) to us, it helps. (But) they feel like other veterans care about them. They maybe can find a mentor. A lot of people … don’t really adopt the veteran, but they become close to the veterans, and they go onto better positions in life.”

The success stories that come out of Crawford House strike a chord with Bowen. “I don’t think you can describe the feeling,” he said. “It’s great to see one of our brothers come off the street and become a success. One of the ones I love to cite: A gentleman went through this program and has since gotten out … (and) gotten a government job, got married and is now living on the East Coast. And he continually calls back, writes back, stays connected with Crawford House. He’s just an amazing success story.”