Gilbert Leon had lost his job, he was about to lose his house and his life started to crumble. The Vietnam War-era veteran considered suicide a viable option.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go,” Leon, 69, said. “My wife asked: Why are you letting this happen? You’re supposed to take care of me.”
Leon knew help existed, he just didn’t know where to turn. He’d learned to be resilient not reliant. “It’s hard for us to ask for help.”
Spokane nonprofits’ new efforts to reach more veterans in need offered him the lifeline right when he and his wife, Sue, needed it. Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest, along with partners Volunteers of America and Transitions, used grant money from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help Leon with housing and connect him with social services.
Goodwill launched its veteran support program in October 2013. The program has served more than 180 at-risk veterans since then. The goal is to provide housing stability to veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, said Goodwill spokeswoman Heather Alexander.
Goodwill learned this week its federal grant has been renewed through 2015. The $1.3 million will be used for support services to 325 veterans in Spokane and surrounding communities. Reaching those in rural areas is of particular importance, so advocates are reaching out in areas such as North Idaho, beyond Coeur d’Alene; Elk, Colville and Cheney.
The coalition recently learned that it also will receive an additional, three-year, $2.9 million federal grant. It will be used to help an additional 160 vets each year who require the most intensive services, such as those who are chronically homeless, mentally ill, abusing substances or all three. Spokane is one of 76 communities nationwide identified by Veterans Affairs as having veterans most in need because of homelessness, poverty, the overall size of the veteran population and other factors.
Most of the veterans who need the most services are located in Spokane’s downtown core, said Fawn Schott, general manager of grant-funded programs for Goodwill Industries.
“We’ll help with housing first, then work on all the additional barriers: chemical dependency and mental health,” Schott said. The money also will pay to hire 11 employees, including two outreach specialists, two housing specialists, an employment specialist, three case managers and a program manager.
Leon calls the new program a “godsend.” He lives in a one-room apartment off the Palouse Highway, and he’s making plans for the future.
He wants to create brochures to inform others about what the program offers and be a mentor for those who are new. The nonprofit’s efforts “show me that we are given some honor; we are people in this world … not castaways.”