When disabled veteran Franklin Hotchkiss was paroled in 2008 after serving a four-year prison term for DWI and possession of a controlled substance, he immediately became a statistic. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, Hotchkiss joined hundreds of other local veterans in homelessness.
“Although I was paroled on November 27, 2008, and I had rededicated my life (to Christ), that didn’t mean my life became perfect,” said Hotchkiss. “I struggled with homelessness and substance abuse, which made it very difficult to become a contributing member of society.”
After more than six years floating around North Texas, Hotchkiss finally latched on. A friend told him about a joint program between the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, administered through the Texoma Council of Governments.
“The program is designed where the VA provides all of the supportive services — any counseling, any training, any job support — while HUD provides four walls and a roof,” explained TCOG Executive Director Susan Thomas. ” But it’s been established that the program’s not sustainable and the retention levels are really low if that house doesn’t actually become a home for the veteran. So the way that we’ve approached doing that is furnishing the house.”
Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, which began in 2011 with an initial allotment of 25 vouchers, aims to provide many of the day-to-day essentials that previously homeless vets find themselves lacking when they enroll. Doing so, said Thomas, can help mitigate some of the stresses associated with starting a new life.
“The homeless veterans come to us with nothing more than a backpack, oftentimes,” said Thomas. “So they don’t have dishes, sheets, towels, linens, furniture, a couch, a chair, nothing. And so we’ve gone through and established it takes about $2,500 to furnish that apartment very conservatively, and so that’s what our fundraiser is for.”
TCOG administrators gathered at Sherman’s 903 Brewers Saturday afternoon to help chip away at the organization’s $62,500 fundraising goal to bankroll the VASH voucher program. It’s money, they said, that helps to repay individuals to whom society owes a debt.
“The purpose of the program is for us to be able to give our veterans, who have given us so much, the house that they deserve,” said Thomas. “They made a lot of sacrifices — tremendous sacrifice. And many of them are suffering from that sacrifice. They need our support; they need our help; they need us to stand beside them and stand up for them, and this is a way that we can do that.”
TCOG’s VASH program has helped 34 homeless veterans find stability, but more than 130 itinerant veterans are still on the street across Texoma, said Thomas. And for each vet like Hotchkiss who finds and successfully enrolls in the program, the results can be life-changing.
“Having housing assistance has given me a new lease on life,” said Hotchkiss, who is currently pursuing a degree at Grayson College in substance abuse counseling. “This new freedom has given me back my self-esteem, self-worth, and independence. I can now pursue my educational goals at college and have my own place to come home to — to study, cook, sleep and live independently. That’s something I have not experienced in over nine years.”
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