Veteran’s Village helps the homeless through the community
BEND, Oregon — Washington Examiner visited the veterans village, where 15 small houses have been built to help homeless veterans get their lives back. The organizers were keen to lead with a sense of community.
We spoke with a resident, John Steel, who said he had been homeless and isolated for 12 years. “Even before I became homeless, I was a recluse.” Now Steel cracks jokes with reporters and is more than confident speaking on camera. He attributes this to his seven months at the Veterans’ Village. “My interactions with people just sucked. So it forces me to develop my social skills.
Veterans Village coordinator David Nieradka, who is a retired veteran himself, said they had a community hall with an industrial kitchen, refrigerator, stoves and dishwashers, as well as showers and washing machines. It is also the only place where residents can access television and the Internet. They don’t allow TVs or WiFi in the cabins, specifically to encourage residents to come into the community room and socialize.
“We want them to socialize, to reintegrate with others because a lot of our guys have been isolated for years,” Nieradka said. “That socialization and integration, with all of our veterans here, fosters that sense of community, of camaraderie that we once had in the military. It works really well for us.
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Cheri Helt helped advance the construction of this 15-house neighborhood through legislation. This whole project started before COVID when Helt was in the state legislature. She passed bills to relax building codes to ensure the project could go ahead.
His department worked with the city council to allocate funds to departments and the county. The county ended up donating the land to the Veterans’ Village.
“This project was really about working together as a community and putting our energy into solutions to solving homelessness,” Helt said.
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When COVID hit, the project almost came to a halt. “When we were building these houses, the problem we faced was the shortage of labour. We didn’t have skilled carpenters we could hire to build them,” Helt said. “We reached out to the community and asked for all kinds of volunteers to come and help us. Everyone learned how to use power tools, paint and side, and it was a really amazing project.
Helt was inspired by all the young people who came to volunteer with school programs and organizations. She even got the whole family involved, as her father and husband learned how to siding these houses. All of the inspirational wall art and furnishings were donated by Oregon businesses and community members.
“We did it as a community. No one could have done it alone,” Helt said.
Steel sat in the kitchen of the community hall and told us how he was chosen to be accepted into this program. “The services they provide are excellent. Now in my case, because of my age and retirement, my standards are totally different. I am here to have all my medical issues taken care of, which has been a plus so far.
Steel revealed that he had to have a few toes amputated and his hands were stuck in a curled up position. He is able to get proper medical attention with the help of the Veterans Village. He used to make knives and can now get back to doing something he loves that might even help him make some money. Steel told us that saving money is a plus on the program, and he dreams of taking a road trip on his motorcycle once he’s finished his time at Veterans Village.
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“Right now we have 12 residents on site,” Nieradka said. “We had a total of seven residents who either moved into their own accommodation or decided it might not be right for them at this point in their life. There’s no bad blood with people leaving. Five of the seven were successes in employment, housing, really got them back on their feet.
For more information, visit the Veterans Village website here.