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Veteran Robert Worship, who was homeless at the time, works his shift in the office of the Shepherd’s House in 2010. The practices of Shepherd’s House are making it a nationwide model.

A shepherd for veterans in need

Local site offers more than room and board

As the granddaughter of a World War II and Korean War veteran and the daughter of a father who served two tours in Iraq, I have deep respect for those who serve.

American soldiers put their lives on the line to protect and guarantee our freedom. Sometimes, they pay the price of dealing with invisible wounds and the trauma they faced while in the war zone long after they return home. Many veterans seek out drugs and alcohol to avoid depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or thoughts of suicide, plus the continual nightmares that plague their minds. They use substances to numb the pain as they try to avoid the memories. Veterans with PTSD may feel hopelessness, shame or despair. As a result, many lose their jobs, homes and families, which can lead to helplessness.

So, who saves them from these hardships and offers them a bit of hope and second chances?

Here in Fort Wayne, there is a place called Shepherd’s House. This shelter is located on Tennessee Avenue right off Spy Run Avenue. Shepherd’s House is designed to assist male veterans who find themselves homeless and struggling with addictions. However, this isn’t just some simple housing that offers a free meal and bed at night. No, this program addresses all the needs that a veteran encounters as he returns home from deployment and struggles with reintegrating into society.

While many individuals volunteer at Shepherd’s House, there are also two social workers available to assist the veterans navigating through the system and help them in filing for benefits.

The majority of Shepherd’s House staff are veterans. Shepherd’s House offers regularly scheduled recovery meetings, Bible study groups and budgeting classes. Veterans work with social workers in creating individualized treatment plans then revisit their goals regularly during case management. The goal is for veterans to build a solid foundation of sobriety and regain their dignity within society.

The philosophy is veterans helping veterans. Shepherd’s House collaborates with the Veterans Administration. Veterans who have an honorable or general discharge from the military do not incur any charges for housing and are able to remain at Shepherd’s House up to two years. The unique aspect of this organization is that it isn’t a homeless shelter – it’s home to a multitude. Over the last six months the staff have really increased their outreach efforts – and with the help of the community. Announcements are being made over several radio stations and through social networking, and the New Haven mayor has included information about Shepherd’s House inside 5,000 household utility bills to get the word out to veterans in need that there is hope. Veterans in need are coming to Shepherd’s House from all over the United States.

This sounds like a great program, and in theory it is. Although Shepherd’s House has things to work on, many generous people step in to help when things need to be done; but some things happen so quickly. Currently, this facility can house 51 veterans. However, staffers would love to be able to do more and are seeking to expand so that they can have a full-size commercial kitchen as well as eating and meeting areas.

In the evenings PTSD meetings will take place, and afterward that same area will be used by the 21 veterans currently enrolled in college to study. The other thing they wish to do is to make this facility more accessible to those with disabilities.

While Shepherd’s House gets funding from the VA, many of the things they do, they do with limited funding and venture to find more ways to raise the necessary money.

This is a place that is doing things differently, but what they are doing is working and making them a model that other locations around Indiana as well as the nation are using to create programs for the veterans they have in their local area. There is not sufficient data about female veterans and needs of those veterans to plan effectively for an increase in their number as service members return from Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, without improved services, women – including those with children and those who have experienced military sexual trauma – remain at risk of homelessness and experiencing further abuse.

Shepherd’s House is hoping it will eventually be a part of a plan to help female veterans get the same sort of help. Currently, there are no facilities for women veterans that mirror this recovery program. On a positive note, women veterans have heard about this and seek help. They were guided to an area where they can get the assistance they need.

Shepherd’s House stands alongside veterans and becomes the voice that every service member fought for so any American could be heard.

Deirdre Dorsett is a Fort Wayne resident and a volunteer at Shepherd’s House. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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