Michele Jeffrey with the Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans

Michele Jeffrey with the Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans helps prepare a backpack during the stand down for veterans in 2018 at the Warrior Resource Center in Montrose. 

In just two days, three people have come to the Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans, looking for help with housing.

The alliance and its Warrior Resource Center can connect veterans with a host of services, support, and even social events with other veterans — but affordable housing is a community-wide puzzle for which the local nonprofit doesn’t have a solution.

“We don’t have any place to put them,” Amy Eifling, volunteer coordinator for WHAFV, said Tuesday.

“Lack of affordable housing is the biggest concern; going into the winter months, keeping them warm and housed. I’m seeing an uptick in the numbers coming in, just needing a place to eat.”

The community and veterans are “fortunate” to have Montrose Lighthouse, an emergency, overnight winter shelter that keeps people out of the cold, and veterans also are well served by the Warriors Rest, a home that helps male veterans facing homelessness get back on their feet, Eifling said.

“But just over the last month, I’ve had an uptick in people coming in and saying they need a warm place to sleep,” she said. “ … Housing is our issue.”

Welcome Home each year puts on the “stand down for veterans,” through which volunteers provide emergency items, such as winter clothing and hygiene kits, as well as connection with resources and even individuals who can help homeless veterans.

This year’s stand down, Ken Zimbleman Stand Down 2019, is named for the man who brought the concept to Montrose a few years ago. It will take place from 10:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Warrior Resource Center, 4 Hillcrest Plaza Way.

Volunteers are welcome, especially those who can help provide food or serve hot lunches to the veterans. Additionally, WRC is accepting donations of things like hand-warmers, warm socks, batteries, flashlights, small disposable containers with lids, bungee cords, toothbrushes and tarps.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is providing tents, sleeping bags and jackets.

“We’re really fortunate this year, because we’re getting four (large) containers. We’ll hopefully get more boots, socks, hand-warmers and flashlights,” Eifling said.

“The stand down is from the Vietnam era. Guys came back, got a hot meal, a shower. It was kind of to regroup them, which is kind of what we do, but we focus more on the supplies they need,” said Eifling.

Volunteers are paired with each veteran who comes in, to walk them through the building and gather information on individual needs. The event brings in VA officials, offers flu shots, and also provides the opportunity for veterans to self-report on their housing situation and related issues.

Mental health resources are also included and people or organizations with information or assistance concerning housing and jobs are invited. The Montrose County Veterans Services officer is also expected to be in attendance.

Welcome Home is further hopeful dental providers will be able to provide some help.

“We sent out this mass of information to the community saying, what can you do for vets?” Eifling said.

“It’s every possible resource we can pack into this building.”

Warriors Rest typically participates in the stand down for veterans.

“It’s a great program. There’s a lot of veterans who won’t really go and ask for help if they need it, but if everyone is there, they feel more comfortable in learning about their situation. They talk to the people that are involved in (programs),” Eric Goff, co-manager of Warriors Rest said.

“Along with that, the Warrior Resource Center has always come up with some cold-weather gear for the guys, if they need it.”

Warriors Rest is located in a large yellow house on North Cascade Avenue; its operators are raising money so they can purchase the home, which was recently listed for sale.

Goff said they have about 50 percent of the $32,000 needed for the downpayment and other costs and have gained a little more time than the original 30-day deadline. (Donations can be made online at https://tinyurl.com/fundwarrior, or mail a donation to 137 N. Cascade Ave., Montrose CO 81401.)

“We’re (at the stand down) basically to share we have a program that we know works,” he said. “If the person wants to participate in it, they can overcome the issues they have.”

Warriors Rest provides bed space for about 10 male veterans at a time to stabilize and transition out of homelessness.

Goff said having a roof overhead is basic to survival.

“The first and biggest problem with everyone is, if you don’t have an address, you can’t get a job. If you don’t have the basic necessities of life, it’s pretty hard to overcome any issue. And that’s what we provide. …Any situation you have, if it is managed correctly, it is good for the community.

“With the homeless situation, it really needs to be looked at closer with our city managers. Because it is a community problem and the only ones that can solve this problem is the community.”

Welcome Home has always partnered with Warriors Rest, Eifling said, and she hopes the home can be saved. “If we lose that, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.

Many people struggle with finding affordable housing, but for veterans, it can be a special challenge, she also said.

“For us, our saving grace, is the Lighthouse,” Eifling said — through it, at least people can have a warm place to sleep during the winter.

The stand down takes an informal count of veterans who self-report homelessness. “We let them decide what they are,” Eifling said. “I’ve had 40. I’ve had 100. It varies from year to year. But it’s too many.”

So far, her food sign-up list for this year’s stand down is a little on the thin side, she also said.

“My sign-up list is not as big as it ordinarily is. I would rather have more. Whatever extra we have, we can freeze it, or get it to Warriors Rest. Whatever comes in is not going to waste,” she said.

People can sign up to bring hot food the morning of the stand down, or just drop it off at the Warrior Resource Center on Hillcrest Plaza Way.

“I can use more volunteers to help me (overall). When a veteran comes in, my goal is to have him (or her) paired with a volunteer to walk him through the building. It gives us an opportunity to talk to the guys, to get to know them and make sure we are meeting their needs,” Eifling said.

“It’s really nice. Then I can get feedback.”

To find out more about how you can help with Ken Zimbleman Stand Down 2019, call Eifling at 970-765-2210.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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