BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Veterans and Community Housing Coalition is a local not-for-profit organization that empowers homeless veterans to get back on their feet and live independently. The group, like many others, has taken a hit financially due to the coronavirus pandemic, and their annual gala is being held virtually this year. Organizers are hoping they will still get enough community support in order to keep their initiative afloat.
Lenny Shaefer served in the United States Army from 1982 to 1985 in Honduras and Panama. He told NEWS10 ABC that when he came back home he had a hard time transitioning to civilian life, becoming an alcoholic and finding himself living on the streets. That’s when he said he found the Veterans and Community Housing Coalition. He credits them for regaining his dignity.
“Even though it started with a bed, it became so much more. It became other veterans that I could identify with because civilians couldn’t identify with what we had been through and that we ran home and went to the bottle. I drank my problems away. They taught me how to live life again. They gave me time to heal. It got me back on my feet, and they gave me guidance,” said Shaefer.
The organization was created back in 1983 in response to the number of homeless veterans in the Capital Region. Executive Director Cheryl Hage-Perez told NEWS10 that at last check, there are still about 600 homeless veterans and families in the Capital Region.
“There are so many reasons. I think the primary reason is some of the jobs that they had while in the military don’t convert to civilian life, and for most of our veterans, this is the first job they’ve ever had. They’ve never written a resume or interviewed because they signed up right out of high school to go. Many have PTSD, addiction issues, anxiety, and these are all issues that stemmed from their time in the military. Eighty percent of the women that we serve are victims of military sexual traumas,” said Hage-Perez.
She said their coalition provides transitional housing for veterans until they can develop job skills and find work so they can live independently. Currently, they have about 68 units and serve veterans of all ages along with their families.
“They can stay up to two years, but the average stay is 14 months. All of our permanent housing programs are full with waiting lists,” said Hage-Perez.
Additionally, they serve nearly 150 veterans with food, financial and mental health support services. They said when the pandemic hit, their requests nearly doubled.
Due to the pandemic, their annual fundraiser which typically brings in more than 400 guests will be held virtually on Wednesday night. Director of Community Relations, Michelle Viola-Straight, told NEWS10 they’ve worked hard to put together pre-recorded musical performances and personal stories in hopes of paying tribute on this Veterans Day while also raising enough money.
“If we did not have the community support for this event, we would not be able to serve veterans like Lenny the way we are. We would have to cut back on services and that would be devastating to the folks that we’re working with,” said Viola-Straight.
The event starts at 7 p.m. They’re auctioning off about 100 items, including an Apple watch, a ring doorbell, a Michael Kors purse, and two autographed Yankees baseballs from 1959 and 1960.
“This will ensure our ability to continue to serve those who have served us,” said Hage-Perez.
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