Homeless man in Harlem (179497)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

Veterans are more likely than nonveterans to experience homelessness. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, like the general homeless population, veterans are at a significant risk of homelessness if they have low socioeconomic status, a mental health disorder and/or a history of substance abuse.

Yet, because of veterans’ military service, this population is at higher risk of experiencing traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which have been found to be among the most substantial risk factors for homelessness.

Based in Virginia, The William-Sterling Foundation is a special purpose 501 nonprofit corporation that was formed to provide disaster relief programs and real estate development assistance as a result of Hurricane Katrina and the hurricane of 2008. 

Because WSF’s founder, James H. Williams is a veteran, he was able to see the type of services that were available and not available to veterans. Since then, he has been a constant advocate for veterans.

Bronx native, Lori Stout became involved with WSF during the Katrina recovery efforts, but she became more involved in 2014 when WSF launched their Homeless Warriors Housing Program.”

“I ended up helping with the fund development because my background is finance,” stated Stout. “I was able to help raise funds to help build some of the first model homes in Virginia. I got to see how many people were homeless on a daily basis.”

Stout continued, “A survey was done in January 2013, which is usually a point-in-time estimate of homelessness They picked a day, one the coldest days of the month and there were over 60,000 homeless people on the streets. I remember that winter we went down and gave out hot chocolate and blankets.”

 Stout added, “I was in the trenches of this and I was seeing families and children, and I couldn’t imagine children going to school every day trying to focus and learn when they don’t have a home.  What are you really learning when your entire mental is dealing with that situation? That was it for me, when I saw those children.”

Even though Stout resides in New York and the foundation is based in Virginia, she is passionate and dedicated to helping as many families turn their lives around.

The WSF’s HWHP is about changing the lives of our warfighters and their families, by providing them the very information needed for them to access earned entitlements from their years of service to end their homelessness, while providing the advocacy they need to transition them back into our society and workforce.

The program focuses and serves homeless veterans, specifically female homeless veterans and their families and very low-income veteran families who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless.

Through the Wells Fargo property donation program and the Department of Veterans Affairs, HWHP acquires multiples houses in Virginia to repair and fix up for homeless vets. Right now, they are working on restoring a house on Lafayette Boulevard in Roanoke, Va. 

“We have a lot of women that were in the armed forces and the military that are not getting the support that they need,” said Stout. “We knew that it this was something we couldn’t do on our own, so we reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs to get their authorization and help to donate homes throughout the county so we could refurbish them and give them to the families.

“There is a list and we work with community development organizations in each county. It still has to be grass root. Everyone has to be involved. We have federal, state and small-business owners that donate. It is an enormous effort with everyone participating to get it done.”

Four houses have already been built in Virginia. HWHP is looking to expand to different states and is currently awaiting additional funding so that more houses can be acquired and refurbished.

“Churches, private sectors and small businesses need to all do this together,” said Stout. “We see it every day and who are we to judge. We don’t know what the circumstances are behind someone becoming homeless. We are supposed to help. I am passionate about it. It is a great and rewarding feeling.

“We are trying to find qualified donors to kind of help us get off the ground. You can start with $10, $20 here and there. People I talk to on a regular basis may not have much, but they understand the process and they understand that we need to get some help with this. All the funding goes to building, acquiring the houses and bringing them up to spec. We try to do this quickly with qualified electricians, buildings and so forth so we can get these people into homes. We’re just trying to be one of the charitable donations that people know about.”

Anyone looking to volunteer can reach out through the website. Donations can be made at https://www.crowdrise.com/LoriStout/fundraiser/loristout1, https://www.guidestar.org/profile/20-8827563 or through the company’s website, http://www.williamssterlingfoundation.com.