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Friday, October 31, 2014         

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Homeless veterans get help

Catholic Charities Hawaii matches ex-warriors with service providers

By William Cole

POSTED:


Army Sgt. Wade Rhein was a crewman on Honest John, Lance and Nike-Hercules tactical nuclear missile batteries in Italy in the latter half of the 1970s.

“At that time we were concerned with the Red Army coming down through Tito’s Yugoslavia, and it was our job then to make that pass impassable,” the McKinley High School graduate said Tuesday.

Rhein, now 56 and living at the U.S. Vets facility at Kalaeloa, said he has been homeless twice in the past three years.

“I made choices in life and they had consequences,” he said. “I became a homeless, chronic alcoholic through my choices. All the things that I vowed that I’d never become came to fruition — and that’s how it works sometimes.”

The good news is his life is back on the upswing, thanks, he says, to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans programs run by other agencies.

“On the 21st I celebrated my one-year sobriety anniversary,” Rhein said. “The VA has helped me incredibly.”

A wide range of programs for homeless veterans was available at Ala Moana Beach Park’s McCoy Pavilion on Tuesday at a resource fair called “Stand Down for O‘ahu.” Sixty-two homeless veterans had come through by 12:30 p.m. to meet with about 35 service providers.

Catholic Charities Hawaii, which hosted the event, said almost 400 homeless veterans sleep on the streets or in temporary shelters each night in Hono­lulu.

Many have substance abuse or mental health problems, experts say.

Of the approximately 1,100 veterans who experienced homelessness in Hawaii last year, about 5 percent were women, according to U.S. Vets, which provides job assistance, counseling and drug- and alcohol-free housing at 11 facilities in six states and the District of Columbia.

The first such resource fair for homeless veterans was held in San Diego in 1988 by a group of Vietnam vets, and since then the events have reached more than 200,000 veterans and their families nationwide, Catholic Charities said.

“Given our current world conflict, we are seeing a new wave of veterans who are struggling and need affordable housing, financial education and counseling,” said Jerry Rauckhorst, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Hawaii.

Kalihi-Palama Health Center provided medical screenings for homeless vets, while Aloha Medical Mission offered dental screenings and the VA administered flu shots, officials said.

At 12:30 p.m. at McCoy Pavillion, six veterans were getting free haircuts from students of the Hawaii Institute of Hair Design.

“It’s nice. It’s good to help and give back since they (the veterans) have done so much to give to us,” said Steffine Ferrara, 22, who was cutting hair.

Erin Rutherford, a program supervisor with Catholic Charities who helped organize the event, said an increasing number of programs for veterans are making an impact and that the numbers of homeless veterans on Oahu are coming down a bit. However, she said, there’s still “a very great need.”

Among the initiatives:

>> Catholic Charities last year created Supportive Services for Veteran Families, which is able to help house 140 single veterans and families, Rutherford said.

>> U.S. Vets and the YWCA of Oahu will offer the only transitional housing in the state specifically for female veterans. The YWCA will provide 20 beds in 10 rooms at a residence in Makiki called Fernhurst.

>> Over the past 21⁄2 years, the Mental Health America of Hawaii’s “Power Up!” program has helped about 100 homeless vets with families secure jobs, the nonprofit organization said.

According to the organization, the unemployment rate for young veterans returning home from Af­ghani­stan is

22 percent, more than double the national rate.

Michael Scheuermann, 42, who served in the Army from 1990 to 1996, struggled with alcohol and drug abuse and came to Hawaii six months ago, said he appreciates the help he’s received.

“It’s been pretty good (at U.S. Vets). I mean, I was on the streets, and they got me off the streets and I’ve been there about a month,” he said.

He’ll be part of an outpatient substance abuse program through U.S. Vets for the next 12 weeks, he said.

“Once I’m finished with that program, that’s when they’ll start with the job assistance,” he said.






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