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Next Step hosting Go Fund Me campaign to help homeless veterans

Times Record - 7/4/2018

July 04--Virtually anyone can help a veteran directly or indirectly; all it takes is a kind-hearted effort, according to one official.

Those wishing to help "make a difference and honor our veterans" can donate to Next Step Homeless Services' new Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to pay for a new transitional home for an area homeless veteran and his or her family, said Kim Wohlford, executive director for Next Step Homeless Services.

"We are going to keep having the Go Fund Me campaign open for the next 30 days at GoFundMe.com/Freedom-House-For-Homeless-Veterans, and we're excited because there's nothing like this in the region," she said. "We are asking for $30,000, and the total cost of the house is $85,000.

"David Dillmeier of Dillmeier Glass got us kicked off with a $50,000 donation, and we are doing all of this through private funding; there's no government funding involved," Wohlford added. "All donations are tax-deductible."

Named the Jack Bradley Freedom House after the late Jack Bradley, a Korean War veteran who lived in the area and was Dillmeier's father-in-law, the home will be "over 1,000 square feet" and will be built at 2105 Wirsing Ave. by Compass Construction, Wohlford said. The house will have two bedrooms and one bath and will be completely furnished, she said.

"There will be no initial costs because we will give the veteran the first two months of staying there absolutely free," said Wohlford, whose agency is a United Way community partner. "We provide their groceries and utilities, and they will have to keep it clean and keep the yard mowed.

"On the third month, they will start paying a small rent amount, and by the fourth month, they will purchase their own groceries," she added. "They also will be required to save 80 percent of their income. We require them to save 80 percent of their income so they have a safety net when they exit our program."

A veteran and family typically will stay in the new house for about six months, although some veterans might need less or more time due to varying circumstances, Wohlford said. All veterans, like all of Next Step's clients, must remain free of drugs and alcohol, she said.

The reasons for homelessness among veterans often can be attributed to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol abuse, family issues and health issues, Wohlford said.

"National studies have shown that transitional housing is one of the best ways for any homeless person to permanently exit homelessness," she said. "This will be one more step that we will have available for them if they need a little extra time before they are living totally independently."

Homeless veterans interested in applying to stay in the new home or for other Next Step services can visit Next Step's office, 123 N. Sixth St., Wohlford said. Information also may be obtained at TheNextStepFS.org and the Next Step Day Room Facebook page; the public also can post questions at TheNextStepFS.org.

"If they are willing to live drug-free and alcohol-free, abide by our case plan and make good decisions, they will be a good applicant," Wohlford said.

"And the United Way funding we get for operations for our day room helps us provide additional programs and housing like transitional homes," she said. "It allows us to expand our services beyond our day room. We are helping about 450 clients a month through our day room, and we average about 40 people in our group homes and other homes at any given time."

Next Step opened in May 2002 and was founded by Gary Hays, who saw that homeless individuals needed help and had nowhere to go during the daytime, states TheNextStepFS.org. Hays shared his vision and knowledge with the members of nearby St. John's Episcopal Church, who offered the use of the Secrest Building for the Next Step Day Room; Hays retired in January 2012 and the agency changed its name from Next Step Day Room to Next Step Homeless Services in March 2013, according to the agency's website.

Wohlford said she felt confident community members will donate the money needed to build the home.

"This is all happening around the Fourth of July, so it's a great time to remember our freedom," she said. "It's the perfect opportunity to thank the veterans who have helped us remain free."


(c)2018 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)

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