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Wednesday, 24 April 2013 09:45

A Voice For Veterans: Saratoga County Rural Preservation Company

By Jackie Kingsland | News

The homeless—Individuals without shelter or a place to call their own—a wide-spread problem across the country.

Veterans—men and women who have served our country and sacrificed to ensure our safety and freedom.

Homeless veterans—two words that should never be included in the same sentence. A travesty. Those service members once walking in stride, dressed in uniform, their heads held high, focused; and for one reason or another, now find themselves seeking shelter, warmth and a place to rest their somber bodies.

Some of these veterans are well educated, attended Harvard University; others owned businesses, have families, children; others served as generals in the United States Army. Many returned from war unable to transition into civilian life, suffering from issues such as post-traaumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or have substance abuse problems, still others simply are trying their best and lack support or resources to change their lives and make ends meet.

Whatever the reasons for these homeless veterans, providing support, access to benefits, resources and a helping hand should be in the forefront of our minds and bullet points in business plans.

In Saratoga County, a non-profit organization exists contributing in many ways to assist with the needs of our veterans. Saratoga County Rural Preservation Company (SRPC), located in Ballston Spa, (518) 885-0091, www.Saratogarpc.org, is an established organization staffed with dedicated persons, some retired and former military members and a few who were once residents of the housing facility.

“The community support has been incredible,” states A.C. (Budd) Mazurek, Executive Director of the SCRPC. “We have raised over $110,000 in donations from the community within one year. Many of the donations were to help improve the back room of the residence. We had over 100 volunteers to assist with the improvements.”

Formed in 1983 under a grant with the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the SPRPC has progressively developed over the years.

The non-profit has expanded to include services for homeless veterans such as transition housing (both male and female veterans), permanent housing for veterans and their families, employment and training assistance with the organization’s specialists who work directly with veterans in Saratoga County as well as four others counties in the area, to help them find meaningful, long-term employment. Rental assistance programs, mortgage assistance for affordable housing, in addition to life-skills programs are also offered through case management for benefit advocacy, treatment programs through the Veterans Administration (VA) and medical/dental care.

Even more compelling in terms of community support was especially illustrated when the Guardian House was formed in October 2011.

Saratoga County supervisor, Joanne Yepsen, and Town of Ballston supervisor, Patti Southworth, were part of a committee which helped create the Guardian House facility, which is specifically designed for homeless female veterans. The residence was funded by a VA grant of $212,000, plus $300,000 from individuals within the region. There were many VA requirements to prepare the shelter, they were satisfied and the residence has successfully provided a home to many female service members.

Since the opening, they have served 17 women and currently have 11 in residence. The SCRPC has added a case manager to meet the growing demand, with two now on staff.

“There is a two-year maximum stay for these women. Many are dealing with sexual trauma and domestic violence,“ stated Mazurek. “We are pleased with the early success in helping these serving women move towards self-sufficiency.”

The Saratoga County Rural Preservation Company partners with many agencies such as the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) (www.va.gov), Department of Labor (www.labor.ny.gov) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

If you are a veteran who is homeless or you know of a homeless veteran, there are three key factors to consider: First, contact the SCRPC (it doesn’t matter your status or circumstance, they will try to assist with veterans’ needs); secondly, investigate the Veterans Administration to determine eligibility; and lastly, the support to help veterans is overwhelming. There is a Memo of Understanding issued for housing, homeless and domestic violence services through the organization.

“Refer to the Shelters of Saratoga if the house is full,” Mazurek explains, “There is a referral network to help veterans. That is why it is so important to contact the VA to determine eligibility. Sometimes it is not the right fit, but we will always try to find them a home.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are alarming numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Homelessness among these veterans has more than doubled over the past two years often from the effects of PTSD, TBI and a slowing economic factor. Transitioning to civilian life, readjustment to family, looking for employment or continuing their education after multiple tours of duty, some with injuries, doesn’t come as easily and can contribute to homelessness.

With the organization’s mission to provide for low income housing needs and advocate for all veterans, Mazurek, who is also a Vietnam veteran, feels it was the best decision he ever made to join the team at the SCRPC.

“Five of the staff were once residents of the shelter, and hired because they could do the job. They are the living example of a journey to a better life,” he said.

To that end, two more success stories include a female veteran who came to the organization with children—housing and employment were a high priority. The staff was able to assist the veteran with securing a good paying job and soon after the veteran and her children were placed into permanent housing. Another veteran came to the SCRPC seeking shelter and was found temporary housing and immediately began a job search. The organization found him a temporary position which allowed for longer term residency. The temporary position led to permanent placement and then to more permanent housing. This veteran continued to perform well in his position.

To conclude, there are approximately 175-225 homeless veterans in the Capital Region. That’s 225 too many. Hire a veteran, help them, and give those service men and women an opportunity to better their life. They sacrificed for ours.

The Saratoga County RPC-VETHELP has been selected to participate in a Home Depot/Facebook Aprons to Action Program contest. RPC-VETHELP provides a transitional home for homeless female veterans who are striving to regain independence. If they win the contest in April, they will use the $25,000 to provide additional living space and office space for veterans currently seeking employment and completing school work.

Go to http://appsfacebook.com/apronsinaction/ and vote for Saratoga County.

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