News: Housing Heroes: Local Yuma Support Organization Helps Vets Find Homes
Story by Cpl. Uriel Avendano
YUMA, Ariz. - Service members from yesterday and today are only too familiar with the unique lifestyle of the armed forces. The structured way of life is suited to discipline, rules and strict dynamics not found anywhere else. However, after so long a commitment, making the transition back to the civilian sector can prove to be one of the most daunting steps in a veteran’s life.
Thankfully, a national organization with a local chapter in Yuma, Ariz., exists to help stabilize veterans in need of assistance going back into the competitive civilian sector and to keep them off the streets.
“The National Community Health Partners is a non-profit organization. Here in Yuma, we focus on ‘Housing for Heroes,’ which utilizes the SSVF [Supportive Services for Veteran Families] grant from the Veterans Administration,” said Samuel McIntosh, a housing veterans advocate for NCHP and former Marine Corps sergeant. “That allows us to help homeless or potentially homeless veterans find suitable housing and stabilize them […] that’s our motto - housing first.”
Many factors can play into a struggling veteran finding his/her life in a tough spot. Unexpected circumstances, a lack of resource understanding, fear of the unknown and a struggling economy are common variables the NCHP housing advocates encounter when dealing with those in need of help.
“There can be several determining factors that make a veteran homeless. The biggest one is financials; having that first and fifteenth check every month, that’s a benefit in the military,” said Rafael Jubera, the senior Yuma NCHP veterans’ housing advocate/program director. “Then having to come out and compete with a civilian that’s maybe been doing a job longer, been doing it better, can make it difficult for a veteran to fit in and make their way financially. It’s one of the biggest barriers for veterans.”
Though relatively new, the Yuma NCHP has been helping veterans find their way since they opened in fall 2013. The housing advocates make it their mission to fight for the future quality of life of their veterans.
An eligibility process exists to select appropriate candidates for the program.
“The first step being confirming, in fact, that they are a veteran. That they don’t have a dishonorable discharge – we’ll assist anybody with anything other than a dishonorable,” said Jubera. “There’s a threshold that the veteran must meet. He or she gets varying points for different situations. For example, if he or she had served in Afghanistan, or if they have children who are underage – those are all qualifying factors.”
Advocates offer a variety of resources and means to help veterans be successful in the public sector. The NCHP informs prospective employers on what a former service member brings to the table, offers transportation with the organization’s own bus, and coordinates the housing resources a veteran could potentially need.
“There’s a lot of information about and opportunities for veterans that I encourage people who are still in the service to learn more about and how to use their benefits,” said Eric Weeks, a NCHP housing advocate and retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. “The first thing is knowing that they exist and that those opportunities are around. There’s no reason for a veteran to go to get a quick cash loan or things like that.”
The mandated Transition Assistance Program class is important for every transitioning military service member. There, they are instructed on how to put together a résumé, informed on the resources available to veterans and given answers to many questions pertaining to the switch from the military into the civilian world.
“Learn your benefits; be aware of what’s out there before you get out,” added Weeks. “Don’t feel ashamed to say you’re a veteran and that you need help.”
A string of bad luck, difficulty coping to the absence of military structure or just falling on hard times can find a veteran without a roof over his head. But sometimes, a simple push in the right direction can get a veteran back on his feet and on his way.
“They [NCHP] get you where you need to go, you do what you need to do and it’s real good, you get help,” said Ruben Hernandez, a former Marine getting assistance from the NCHP. “The staff is great. Especially when I don’t have someone to talk to, because my family’s all in New York or the Dominican Republic and my mom’s in Italy. With my wife, there are times when I can’t talk to her. Sometimes you need someone, somewhere, to go talk to.”
All of the housing advocates at the Yuma NCHP have served. McIntosh is a former sergeant, who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. Jubera and Weeks, both retired Marines, were once a part of the Crash Fire Rescue team with Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Each of the advocates have a deep understanding of the culture, language and difficulties veterans face when transitioning to civilian life.
“There are those combat veterans who may come back with injuries like TBI [traumatic brain injury] or PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].They can have difficulties adjusting to civilian life as well,” said Jubera. “Here in Yuma, we have an older veteran population, so that’s been our main clientele - the older veterans. We are starting to see an uptick, though, in the younger veterans who are transitioning … with Iraq and Afghanistan drawing down and the downsizing of the military.”
To those nearing the end of their military enlistment, the housing advocates would encourage them to contact local veterans support groups ahead of time in order to be ready. Be prepared, stay active and pay attention – all of which should sound familiar to service members, regardless of when they served.
For more information on veteran assistance, contact the Yuma-based NCHP office at 255 West 24th Street., Suite 4, or call (928) 726-6022.