Last November, First Lady Michelle Obama challenged Mayors around the country to "make a commitment to end veteran homelessness in 2015." The mayors of Eugene and Springfield rose to the challenge and progress has been made over the past year in "Operation 365". There is still a lot of work to do to house veterans in our community.
One of the people on the front lines in fighting veteran homelessness is Lorie Perkins. Since moving to Eugene more than a decade ago, Perkins has dedicated herself to veteran housing. She shows me around this 4 bedroom house in West Eugene.
Perkins: "This is their living area, you know, watching movies, football games and just relaxing…"
There's a shared kitchen, two bathrooms. Perkins is getting ready to rent out each bedroom to a veteran in need of a home. She says she tries to help vets not only with housing but also with accessing resources.
Perkins: "So, you know when you're homeless you're stuck in that rut. So I want to bring them in and show them there's life after serving. And, we bring them in. We help them, get them to the agencies, doctor's appointments and just help raise their sprits and just help them to move forward."
Perkins owns 6 other homes in Eugene with rooms for male veterans. Jeff Engelstad lives in one of them. He's a 48-year old vet who was on the edge of homelessness when he met Perkins.
Engelstad: "I had an addiction problem. I still do. And I was having a hard time coming out of treatment and I was unable to find housing."
Perkins encouraged him to move in to one of her rentals. She requires tenants to be clean and sober. That works well for Engelstad:
Engelstad: "So, starting over, this is by far. And then having that clean environment and having people around you that are clean, sober, doing the things they're supposed to do and you can't walk out and find any of that. I've run into people who've said well, it was either that or I was heading back to the park or I was heading back to the mission. I was heading back. This has been an amazing turn for everybody."
At this newly refurbished house, Perkins put in a sprinkler system and locks on the bedroom doors. This allows each tenant to have his own lease. Tod Schneider is with the city of Eugene, which helped Perkins with the project.
Schneider: "It not only provides a room that costs a lot less than a full-scale apartment but it makes it eligible for veterans support housing vouchers, or VASH vouchers, and that way the vets, once they get here, actually have a way to keep paying rent."
Schneider says this is a pilot project for single room occupancy veterans' housing. It also provides support for people who are dealing with addiction or illness. Lorie Perkins says it's always challenging to finance her projects to house veterans. She was inspired to do this work by her late husband who was a veteran.
Perkins: "I like safe places and I want this to be a safe place. They've been out there with all of that. I want them to call this home, like you and I, and just come home. You know, go to work, school, and come home."
Perkins is not the only one working on this effort. So far, Lane County has housed about 300 veterans in the mayors' challenge to end veteran homelessness. At this rate it may achieve "Operation 365" -- and house a vet a day for 2015 -- by the end of the year.