The year was 2018. The location, Friendly’s in Lantana Square. In a corner booth, four men discussed over their breakfast how they could somehow stop the cycle associated with veteran homelessness. They had learned of an all-too-common pattern of dysfunction where homeless veterans were moving into government subsidized housing yet returning to the streets within just a few months. With thousands of veterans being failed by the system they fought so hard to protect, those four souls in the corner booth knew that something had to be done. And so, Beds4Vets was born.
Over their weekly Friday morning breakfast meeting, Hockessin Athletic Club members Chris Cascio and Zach Bagdon, along with the owner of the Hockessin Postal Connections Rick Martin and Wells Fargo’s Justin Czerwinski, were determined to get to the bottom of why the official numbers of homeless veterans were dropping but more were being seen than ever before. After visiting the local Wilmington VA, they learned that government statistics count homeless veterans only once. If they return to homelessness after being housed, they are seen not as homeless veterans but as simply homeless. According to government statistics, there was not a single homeless veteran in Delaware in 2018, but the Wilmington VA hospital was helping over 50 each year. Where was the disconnect?
The team decided to take a social worker and a veteran who had gone through the program out for lunch, and the problem became instantly apparent. The veteran explained it as thus. First, the VA social workers identify homeless veterans that are committed to making a transition to permanent housing. If they agree to attend all their appointments and take meaningful steps to address the issues that caused their initial homelessness, they are provided a voucher through a partnership between the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This voucher provides the veterans with a discounted home, most often in Section 8 housing. As most homeless veterans have some form of disability, their disability checks are then used to pay the rent for their new home. This is where the government program stops.
VA social workers are restricted in their ability to furnish apartments for newly housed veterans and their families. Often, this leaves these families with no choice but to sleep on the floor. With most of their income going to the rent, they don’t have the funds available to purchase a mattress, sheets, or other necessary household items. Canned goods can be picked up from food banks, but what do you do with them when you don’t have a can opener or pots to cook the food with? The apartments have showers, but what good is a shower without a shower curtain or towels? In some ways even more important, the apartments lack lighting fixtures. As soon as the sun went down, the veteran and their family found themselves in the dark, often returning to locations such as bars which contributed to their initial homelessness just to access light. After sleeping on the floor for two months with their children, many of these veterans make the decision to return to the shelters where they can at least enjoy a warm bed and a hot meal. The social workers at the VA share their frustration with their inability to provide these veterans with the basics they need for daily living.
If you’ve read the article this far, you probably come to the same conclusion that the founders of Beds4Vets came to: what if these veterans making a transition were provided with the very basics to furnish their homes? What would happen if the veteran and their loved ones were provided with mattresses? Or if the veterans were provided with pots and pans to prepare their own meals? What would happen if the veterans were provided with shower curtains and towels so they might be able to prepare themselves for a job interview? The founders were eager to determine what would happen with these basic needs met.
In the following weeks, the members began to work with the social workers and provide new household items for each veteran as they moved into their home. And lo and behold, something remarkable happened. To their knowledge, not a single veteran that was helped has returned to homelessness. In fact, many of these veterans reentered society, taking on active employment. With the millions of government dollars being spent on homelessness nationwide, this solution was being achieved with approximately $600 of privately funded support per vet.
A lot has changed for Beds4Vets since 2018. Beds4Vets was officially incorporated in 2018 as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Its goal was to remain 100% volunteer-based and to serve as many veterans as possible. With the cost of helping a veteran being so low, it was important to be fully volunteer-run as every dollar spent on any other activity could literally impact the organization’s ability to change a life. As a result, the volunteers made their own website, filed their own legal incorporation paperwork, and did all those activities that large organizations have full staffs for. And while funds were limited, the team felt good about helping those veterans they could. But the need of the veterans in our community continued to grow and soon outpaced the resources of the organization along with rising prices of home goods.
In 2021, everything began to change. One volunteer left and another joined. The number of veterans in need began to spike. Beds4Vets started receiving calls from other states asking for help. The organization was at a crossroads. Would they be content with helping 5 to 10 veterans a year, or could they hope to reach the over 100 veterans in Delaware that go homeless each year? It was at this time that the Hockessin Athletic Club leadership became aware of what Beds4Vets was doing for our community. Members of HAC’s leadership team saw an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the veterans in our community and invited Beds4Vets to be the recipient of the funds raised in their annual HAC Salutes campaign.
The rest is now history. Since 2021, the volunteers of Beds4Vets have stood in the entrance way of the HAC each fall, selling flags and raising awareness. The HAC staff at the front desk became vital partners for Beds4Vets in their mission. It was because of these flag selling sessions in the lobby that HAC member Jim Powers came on board, utilizing his CPA expertise as the charity’s new treasurer. Since 2021, the Hockessin Athletic Club and its members have contributed over $40,000 to Beds4Vets. This infusion of support has enabled the charity to help an ever-increasing number of veterans each year.
While Beds4Vets’s geographic footprint has grown, their continued core focus is assisting homeless veterans in the local Delaware community, honoring its Hockessin roots. Today, Beds4Vets has helped over 100 veterans and their families. They continue to do so with no government support. The Hockessin Athletic Club and its members have forever transformed the lives of these veterans with their support of the HAC Salutes Campaign. Now through November 11th, remember to buy a flag to be displayed along HAC’s driveway on Veteran’s Day and dedicate it to a family member or friend who served. Purchase a flag online or at the Front Desk, stop by the Beds4Vets desk, and say hi to HAC members Jim, Chris, and Zach, and perhaps offer to join the contingent of volunteers. Whether you donate or volunteer, every HAC member should make an effort to see the flags on Veteran’s Day and remember that each flag directly helps a veteran in our community.