CEDAR RAPIDS — For veterans struggling with a mental illness or substance abuse, a regular homeless shelter may not be a viable option for emergency housing, and Cedar Rapids’ Freedom Foundation is looking to provide another option.
Executive Director Chuck Elias said the Freedom Foundation, a not-for-profit providing services including a food pantry and clothing program for veterans, hopes to open a veterans-only homeless shelter this winter or spring.
On Aug. 1, the foundation will take possession of a unit on the same strip as their current operational space in the 600 block of Center Point Road NE. Initially, a shelter there would start with six beds available year-round, he said.
The foundation plans to fundraise in the next few months, setting a $1 million goal.
Elias said he began to think about providing a shelter for veterans after many approached him, mentioning the difficulties of staying in regular shelters. While Elias said he understands the vital service other homeless shelters in Eastern Iowa provide, the Freedom Foundation’s shelter would be filling a gap.
The goal, Elias said, is to provide a comprehensive approach and case management. Those who come into the shelter would need to go to a Veteran’s Affairs office to be medically-assessed. They would be able to wash clothing and bedding, take a shower and get a haircut. They also would have access to job placement programs and work with a VA substance abuse counselor if necessary.
“I thank God for all the shelters,” Elias said. “At the same time, the atmosphere and conditions are not conducive. We think with an increased level of care and concern, we can get this done.”
Phoebe Trepp, executive director of the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter in Cedar Rapids, said about 11 percent of those who have been served there are veterans.
Willis Dady provides case management, health and substance abuse services for homeless veterans, as well as preventive services to assist vets before they face homelessness.
She said she does understand that homeless veterans may have unique needs.
“We often have many veterans here at any one time, and they can assist each other and give each other information. Having a peer connection is really helpful,” she said. “We have other special needs for veterans, and there can be mistrust of the VA or government in general.”
Many at-risk veterans are struggling with difficulties such as post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse.
While many shelters don’t allow intoxicated individuals, Elias maintained he would allow those under the influence of drugs or alcohol if they don’t show behavioral issues or are in a medical emergency.
“You come into our shelter and you have alcohol on your breath, but you’re behaving OK, we’re not turning you away,” he said. “The majority of our veterans are suffering from a type of substance abuse.”
Many other shelters also have nighttime curfews; those who leave after that time are not allowed back in. Elias said he won’t have that rule.
“These guys have night terrors and PTSD,” he said. “If I told some of our veterans that these doors are locked, that might trigger confinement anxiety. If you need to go outside and walk or you need to go for a drive to calm down, we’re going to let you come back in. We aren’t going to let people congregate in the parking lot or to the bar.”
Elias said there also won’t be a 30-day time limit, but that doesn’t mean vets there won’t have to show their willingness to improve.
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“This shelter isn’t going to be, ‘I never have to leave,’” he said. “We’re going to monitor your progress. This is to get you permanent housing, get you to the VA for medical exams, get you employed and get you to build your life back up. I don’t want to give a misconception that every case is a success, but we keep telling you that we care and we’re here for you.”
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