22 American Veterans commit suicide every day, 1 of every 4 homeless are Veterans, and 1 in every 6 homeless have been homeless for more than one year. One local organization is doing what it can to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, these sad statistics.
The Journey Home is a transitional home for homeless Veterans. Their mission is to end Veteran homelessness by taking homeless Veterans off the streets or out from under bridges and transitioning them into permanent housing, treatment, and appropriate employment. Mr. Eldon Solomon, the Executive Director, states that while at The Journey Home, Veterans “develop the social, emotional and employment skills that sustain independence, and that will connect them to the VA, to their County Veteran Services Officer (VSO) and to local resources for eligible benefits.”
The Journey Home makes Veterans their priority, so they lower the barriers that would otherwise prevent a homeless Veteran from going into placement and provide the specialized programing to support them. They personalize their programs and services to support Veterans through their recovery. Patience, with accountability, provide the Veteran stable support as they stay engaged in their transitional services. “Mistakes are used as a stepping stone in the development of not only new skills but of confidence and hope,” states Solomon. “Veterans with Purple Hearts, and Silver and Bronze Stars, walk into their doors homeless and receive the help that they need to transition into a new home.”
“Our local facility is unique, a sort of hybrid between a shelter and a treatment center,” Solomon states. “We do not provide in house treatments to Veterans but are staffed with qualified case workers to assess and link them to appropriate VA and Non-VA Treatment Facilities.” Many of the Veterans I spoke with on a recent visit said it was one of the best such facilities that they had been to. One commented that he had never seen a community so supportive of Veterans. Each Veteran’s journey to the Journey Home is unique. The journey of The Journey Home is also unique and interesting as well, with a few missteps and growing pains along the way.
In 2013, there were a number of local incidents involving Veterans, including suicides. This alarmed Linda DeHaven and she went to Michael Kennedy, himself a Veteran, to discuss what could be done. Their numbers grew to an army of concerned citizens, and the initial idea of The Journey Home for Veterans was formed. The County Commissioners helped secure a location within the old hospital with a promise of subsidized rent, and a 503(c)3 with a Board of Directors was established.
Early in 2014, the Journey Home opened its doors in the former Randolph County Youth Opportunity Center with a great deal of passion, fight, and drive, but little idea of what needed to be done to help Veterans.
One year later, 2015, all but three of the initial Board of Directors resigned stating concerns of mismanagement; the organization was out of money and within weeks of closing the doors. Steve Croyle, Gary Girton, and Claudia Thornburg, all strong believers in what The Journey Home could do for Veterans, stepped in and reorganized.
Immediately removing all management and operational control from those previously involved, the new Board of Directors were able to stabilize operations by November 2015. By completely changing mission, purpose and program services, The Journey Home established a partnership with the VA. and secured VA funding in a two-year 10-bed per diem contract. In November of 2016, Mr. Solomon, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with over 20 years of mental health administration experience, was named Executive Director. The number of Veterans served by this wonderful organization has steadily increased in the years since.
Since its inception in 2014, the Journey Home has served over 138 Veterans. In 2014, they took in 14 Veterans. In 2016, they took in 25 Veterans. In 2018, the Journey Home took in 49 homeless Veterans; 28 of those found permanent housing and 5 were placed into appropriate treatment.
“We offer a 3 to 6 month transitional program. Each Veteran is different. For some it is their first contact with the VA. We work with them to create an Individual Recovery Plan or IRP based on the individual’s needs. They are given a set of goals to achieve with the ultimate goal being to find housing. We review the IRP with each Veteran every month and adjust their goals accordingly,” says Solomon.
As for the question of who started the Journey Home, “The list is too long,” states Solomon. “The credit is shared by so many people and organizations. It’s truly been a grass roots effort by so many individuals. I like to say that the community created the Journey Home.” The Journey Home is an organization and mission of pride for many. Most do not want to be named, others are just happy to be connected to The Journey Home’s mission to end Veteran homeless.