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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Program gives hope to homeless veterans

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

If anybody needed a message of hope this holiday season it was Richard, a homeless veteran of the Vietnam War. His false teeth were stolen two days before he got invited to Christmas dinner by U.S. Vets Hawaii out at the former Barbers Point naval air station.

At age 56, he said he's too old to sleep on a park bench. Before the Institute of Human Services took him in he paid $350 a month of his disability pay for a rat-infested, 10-by-12-foot cubicle with a bed and a sink, toilet down the hall. He has been robbed and mugged.

Even without teeth, Richard made three trips to the chow line manned by volunteers in a rapidly expanding program for homeless veterans who live in former Navy barracks. "This is a nice place," he said cautiously. "Maybe I'll give it a try."

If he decides to live in the facility for veterans he'll have good role models to follow. The fellow who gave the prayer at the dinner was a homeless minister. Now he's site supervisor for a construction company while living at U.S. Vets Hawaii and saving money to get his own place.

"It's not easy for a homeless veteran to find a job or even a place to live," explained one of the volunteers. "Apartment owners ask for a deposit and a down payment. If you don't have an address, there's an extra security deposit. How can a homeless veteran raise that kind of money?

"Who's going to hire you if you don't have decent clothes or even a telephone call-back number?"

The purpose of the program is to provide support and low-cost housing to homeless veterans until they can get back on their feet. To be accepted, a person cannot be an alcohol or drug abuser, or must agree to go into a substance-abuse program.

They live in clean, furnished rooms at no cost until they are eligible for the VIP (Veterans in Progress) building. Residents there have a choice of three accommodations; a single furnished room with bath at $450 a month, a room with bath for 2 people for $290 per person, or a room with bath for 4 people at $200 per person.

Right now, 50 men are in the rooms for newcomers with 31 living in VIP rooms. Out of 20 who applied for jobs recently, 17 were hired.

State Sen. Willie Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), is excited about the use of empty military barracks as housing for homeless veterans. "Finally, somebody is using common sense," he said. He hopes TheBus can modify its 'Ewa Beach-to-Kapolei route to provide service inside the old base.

Patrick Murphy was a homeless journalist who worked at the Denver bureau of the McNeil-Lehrer Report as reporter-researcher before he landed at U.S. Vets. Now he's a security guard.

"This program is really good," he said. "It provides a structure for people who need help. These people care."

If you'd like to help, call 682-9015.

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.