VA feeds homeless veterans

Curtis Smith, a Navy veteran and a participant in the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, goes through the food line at a holiday luncheon held Thursday for veterans who are participants in the VA’s homeless program.

Michael Miller | FME News Service

Curtis Smith, a U.S. Navy veteran and a Temple native, was one of many veterans who attended a holiday luncheon Thursday for veterans who are served by the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System homeless initiatives.

Smith was homeless for a number of years.

The Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, VASH, has given him a new lease on life, Smith said.

The death of a number of family members over a period of time took a toll on Smith.

“I lost my grandmother first,” he said. “I found my dad and I moved to Falls County and then he passed. Then my mother died.”

After entering the VA homeless program, Smith went from the Temple VA domiciliary to transitional housing in Austin, before he moved into his Temple apartment.

The VASH program has a case management element that assists veterans and families in finding additional resources and with financial planning.

“I have a wonderful case manager; she’s like family,” Smith said.

Smith, 64, said he doesn’t make plans for the holidays. “I take each day as it comes,” he said.

He volunteers with Help Hospitalized Veterans at its crafts store, which opened in March.

“I was staying at home a lot, and when that opened up I thought that’s something I can do,” Smith said.

The holiday meal, held at the Temple VA, was prepared and served by staff of the homeless program and volunteers.

It’s heartening when at an event like this the volunteers outnumber the program participants, said Kurt Bruckbauer, chief of social work service.

Fifteen members of Fort Hood’s 89th Military Police Brigade were back this year, furnishing warm clothes to the veterans and their families.

“It’s an honor to be here,” said Sgt. Jeremy Odom, the brigade’s public affairs officer.

The Fort Hood brigade has participated in the lunch for several years. Members of Team RWB — red, white and blue — accompanied the Fort Hood soldiers.

Team RWB, an international organization, has a goal to connect veterans with their communities through social and physical activities.

The organization started out as the project of one man who wanted to help veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, because those with PTSD will often isolate themselves, said Stefani Stephens, a Team RWB member.

David Lanoue, commander of Huntsville VFW Post 5871, traveled from Huntsville to bring clothes to give to participants in the VA homeless program.

Lanoue had just finished a fundraiser, Coats and Cash, for homeless veterans on Wednesday, where he and another VFW member lived outside for three days.

Lanoue stayed in a truck parked at a Walgreens Pharmacy, while his partner lived in a dumpster for recycled materials. “It was cold and wet,” he said. “It was terrible and my heart goes to anyone who is forced into that situation.”

During their time outside, the two collected a number of coats, which were given away Thursday, and more than $2,000. The cash goes to VFW homeless veteran’s fund.

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