TOLEDO, Nov. 22, 2018 (AP): More than a decade of bad decisions,
toxic relationships and sleeping inside garages and vacant
apartments had left Army veteran Michael Robertson with
thoughts of ending his life.
It wasn't until he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress
disorder that he began seeing a way out. But with no way to
afford the upfront costs for his own apartment, he was stuck in
a shelter for the homeless three years ago in Houston where he
settled after drifting around the country.
That's when a nonprofit organization called Veterans Matter
stepped in—one of several groups that fill gaps government
agencies can't reach even as they push to end homelessness among
Since setting out with that goal at the beginning of this
decade, the departments of Housing and Urban Development
and of Veterans Affairs said in November the number of
homeless veterans has dropped by about half to 38,000.
Robertson, who served in the Persian Gulf War, is among the many
no longer on the streets. Now, he has a dream of opening a food
truck someday as he continues with therapy. ``I couldn't imagine
any of that or being stable just a few years ago,'' he said.
The number has dropped under a strategy that brought the two
federal departments together to offer homeless veterans
assistance with monthly rent and case management and clinical
But they can't cover all the needs, said Anthony Love,
director of community engagement for the Veterans Health
Administration's office for homeless programs. Some nonprofits
help the veterans furnish new apartments, buy groceries or find
jobs. Many operate in just one community or region, Love said.
Veterans Matter pays for security deposits and the veteran's
share of the first month's rent. So far, it has helped 2,600
veterans in 20 states get off the streets. Nine out of 10 remain
housed after the first year, the organization said.
``Veterans Matter is one of few with a national scope that will
go where the need is,'' Love said. ``They can get a check to a
landlord pretty much the same day or within 24 hours.''
Founded by Ken Leslie, a former comedian and businessman
who was once homeless himself, Veterans Matter began in
2012 after he learned about a few dozen veterans in Toledo who
were unable to get a place to stay because each couldn't cover
the $700 deposit.
What that often meant was asking veterans to make an appeal to
churches and military service organizations, said Shawn
Dowling, who works for the VA in Ohio and Michigan.
``It's really hard to admit that because it's so
uncomfortable,'' she said. ``It did feel like begging. It was
really embarrassing for the guys.''
Since then, Veterans Matters has grown state by state
with an assist from a list of celebrities, from Katy Perry to
ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill
was an early supporter who helped take the organization to a
national level by bringing it to his home state of Texas.
Rocker George Thorogood just released a promotional video a
few weeks ago.
The message isn't just about getting a veteran a warm place to
stay, Leslie said, it's about changing their lives and giving
``If it was just about getting them housed, I wouldn't be doing
it,'' he said. ``We're targeting veterans who have nowhere to
who was in the Army during the 1970s, had been in and out of
homelessness and found himself without a place to stay last
January in his hometown of Cincinnati. He had no idea
there were ways to get his own apartment until he met with a
veteran services worker.
``Without people who care enough to help us,'' he said, ``a lot
of us won't make it.''
Solely relying on donations, Veterans Matter has
collected and spent nearly $2 million on housing. Funding is
limited, and sometimes that means turning down a request,
especially in areas where costs have soared, Leslie said.
Much of the money comes from corporate donations along with
individuals and veteran service organizations. First Nation
Group, a medical device distributor based in Florida, has
donated $800,000 since the beginning, getting its employees and
suppliers involved, too.
``You can write checks and feel good about giving, but often
times you don't really know the outcome,'' said company
president Steve Baugh. ``We're sure that a veteran who
needs housed today, gets housed.''