For veterans homeless or at risk of such, a battle plan is needed, Soldiers Point Texas Executive Director Shawna Story said.
About 9,400 veterans call Johnson County home with several facing hard times after their service. Unfortunately, such incidents are not confined to Johnson County.
Nationwide, roughly 190,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, Story said. While men make up about 93% of those numbers, about 7,000 female veterans are homeless, double the number from just a decade ago.
Additional challenges arise from the fact that 44% of veterans living in rural areas earn less than $35,000 a year and struggle to maintain independent living.
“During the day I work with Texas Veterans Commission as a veterans career advisor and I see this in the labor market from the people I see coming in so these statistics make sense,” Story said.
Story discussed the challenges many veterans face during Thursday’s meeting of the Cleburne Rotary Club.
Such veterans, Story said, deserve respect and help.
“They’ve served our country, and that’s worth something,” Story said.
For some veterans housing challenges are even more severe.
“With the cost of living rising, many veterans are struggling to pay their bills and maintain housing,” Story said. “Especially the ones who are on Social Security or getting VA benefit only.”
For those and other reasons, Ava Spencer began Colonel’s Corral, now known as Soldiers Point Texas, in 2017 to assist homeless veterans in 2017 in hopes of creating a place where veterans in need could come with their animals.
Story, who served 12 years in the U.S. Army, took over as executive director in 2021.
“Since our inception we’ve helped 30 with food, shelter, referrals to VA clinics and other services,” Story said.
The mission, Story said, is straightforward.
“Soldiers Point Texas provides transitional housing and supportive services to homeless veterans and at risk of homeless,” Story said. “Helping our guests create a battle plan for life.”
The battle plan Story referred to includes housing, supportive services, referrals, life coaching and case management among other services.
“We meet them where they are,” Story said. “All my veterans we meet and talk about where they are in their case management progress every week or two weeks depending on which plan they’re on.”
Last year the organization provided transitional housing and other services to 12 veterans and provided holiday meals for five veterans and a local family. Soldiers Point Texas also provided clothes, blankets and personal hygiene items to 16 veterans, Story said, adding that six veterans have since moved on to sustainable living.
Going forward, the goal for next year is to partner with individuals and businesses to purchase 11 acres near Cleburne — the current center is in Alvarado — to construct 10 additional housing units.
“We have three houses now,” Story said. “Being closer to Cleburne will help veterans, especially those without transportation, be able to get to jobs, services, groceries and so forth.”
Help is needed to accomplish those and other goals of the organization.
“It’s all about partnership,” Story said. “We can’t do it alone. Which is why we work to make sure we touch other organizations and resources out there whether they’re veteran related or not.”
In addition to donations and sponsorships, volunteers are needed for numerous tasks and projects.
“We’re on two acres now and need fencing for that location,” Story said. “We’re getting an office building soon and are going to need help with insulation and dry wall as well as electrical, bathroom and other things.”
Those interested may also help out by contributing toward the organization’s Amazon Wish List, available on the group’s website.
“When the veterans come in they get a whole room of new stuff,” Story said. “bed, linens, shower curtains, things to outfit the bathroom. We want them to have pride in what they’re getting so, while we do take a few donations of used items, we don’t take a lot. We like to give them mostly new items because that makes them feel like they’re worth something.”
Fundraisers are planned. A car show in March or April and a concert in October are in the works.
Grants and rent from the veterans served provide the majority of Soldiers Point Texas’ funding, but donations are always needed, Story said.
Donating to Soldiers Point Texas or the Alvarado VFW relief fund is a good way to help.
“There’s also Coffee with Vets at 10 a.m. every Saturday at West End Grill in Cleburne, which is a good way to visit with, get to know and show your support for local veterans,” Story said.
Story cited Fred, a local homeless veteran with a substance abuse problem who, at the behest of Burleson Army recruiters, turned to the organization for help in May, 2022.
Soldiers Point Texas officials set Fred up with housing and other necessities and helped him find minor jobs until he landed a permanent job.
Now living in Azle and doing well, Fred is clean from drugs and able to sustain himself, Story said.
“He attributes this the the fellowship and camaraderie he had while living at [Soldiers Point Texas],” Story said.
Story concluded by once again encouraging residents to involve themselves with assisting veterans in need and to refer any such veterans to Soldiers Point Texas.
For information on the organization, visit soldierspointtexas.org.
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