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Craven Veterans have answered the call to serve; RCS vows to provide much needed support

Due to our area’s proximity to MCAS Cherry Point and MCAS Camp Lejeune, hundreds of veterans seek assistance each year when they are physically and/or emotionally unable to work and cannot support themselves.

“Veterans are very important to our nation’s future because how we view, appreciate, and treat our returning veterans, how we receive them back into society, how we handle their physical and mental health needs, how we provide every opportunity for their continued educational and professional growth and advancement is what will make America’s future as venerable as our past.” — Madison Haley, Mount Pulaski High School, 2013-2014 Voice of Democracy first place winner

Whether they stormed the beaches of Normandy, fought in the jungles of Vietnam, or battled in the sands of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, our brave men and women in uniform have always put our country and values first. Over time, our enemies may have changed, but the heroism displayed by our military never has. Our troops have protected us and defended our national security repeatedly and consistently—and they deserve our gratitude.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans advises the most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, non-profit groups. Programs that seem to work best feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves.

By the Numbers

North Carolina has the ninth largest veteran population in the country and is home to approximately 770,000 veterans and their families. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reveals that there are between 113 and 145 veterans per 1,000 residents in Craven, Pamlico, and Onslow counties. According to Lovay Wallace-Singleton, the Executive Director of Veterans Employment Base Camp and Organic Garden, there are 13,000 veterans in Craven County alone and many are known to be homeless.

The type of services veterans need differs among military era cohorts and differs from the general population. In 2013, the VA estimated there were approximately 22 million veterans living in the United States. Roughly a third of veterans served in the Vietnam era, 30% served during the Gulf War era, and 25% served during peacetime. According to a 2010 national survey, most veterans are 55 years old and older. One-third of veterans reported having served in a combat or war zone and a similar percentage reported being exposed to dead, dying, or wounded individuals during their service.

Veterans’ Needs are Growing

Compared to civilians, veterans are more likely to experience homelessness and to have poorer health and health behaviors. Unemployment rates for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans outpace both their civilian counterparts and veterans of previous conflicts. North Carolina’s veterans are slightly younger and are more likely to have served in the Gulf War era than all veterans nationwide. This relatively larger population—in the 30-to-50 age range—may represent a greater need for educational and employment services, mental health treatment, or assistance purchasing homes.

Tens of thousands of additional troops are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan as the U.S. presence in both countries is drawn down. These troop reductions are likely to lead to an increase in the number of veterans in our state. More veterans may lead to a corresponding increase in the demand for veteran services. Additionally, changes in the demographic composition of the military, including the presence of more women and minority members, may mean that veterans need different types of services than those provided in the past.

Close to Home

New Bern has the highest number of homeless veterans in North Carolina as veterans relocate to the area where they were stationed. Due to our area’s proximity to MCAS Cherry Point and MCAS Camp Lejeune, hundreds of veterans seek assistance each year when they are physically and/or emotionally unable to work and cannot support themselves.

This is where Religious Community Services (RCS) steps in to help. The organization’s mission includes the prevention of homelessness by developing plans of action led by trained professionals for those in need so they may begin the road to self-sufficiency. And services and shelter do not end at 5:00 p.m. each day—RCS is proud to provide overnight housing for our veterans for as long as they need it. The goal, of course, is to find a permanent housing solution for these servicemen and women. In the last two years RCS facilitated supportive housing for 13 homeless veterans, but there are many more veterans who can be helped.

How You Can Help

RCS is working to raise $352,000 for the Shelter as part of the BEE Campaign. Veterans have answered the call to serve our nation in a way few Americans ever will and they deserve the full measure of our support.

RCS currently operates a 20-bed shelter for homeless families, teens, veterans, and individuals. Last year, over 200 people stayed at the shelter—50 of those were veterans—and beds were full every night for nearly 300 days.

It is for this reason that an RCS Veterans Emergency Shelter must be built. Other factors include:

  • Nearly 15% of the homeless population in our area are veterans;
  • Over 100 homeless veterans live in our tri-county area;
  • Reliable transportation is needed to/from hospitals and clinics; and
  • Veterans need help obtaining basic services (medical and mental health assistance) and financial resources.

The goal of RCS is to build a shelter specifically for veterans to:

  • Provide a guarantee of six rooms just for homeless veterans in need;
  • Create separate entry for privacy and security; and
  • Have room to introduce additional programs to encourage independence while transitioning a veteran into civilian life.

RCS relies heavily on donations from the community—27 percent of that funding coming from individual donors. We want to not only help with emergency situations, but to assist in the growth and development of all our guests for long-term success. It is our hope you will entrust us with a donation as we strive to save and change people’s lives.

RCS, founded in 1982, is a faith-based organization addressing the basic needs of our community by providing food, clothing, and shelter to those who need it most. Primary programs include the Soup Kitchen, Clothing Closet, and Homeless Shelter, but many other thriving programs help nourish the whole person: Mind, body, and spirit. To volunteer or donate to RCS, call (252) 633-2767 or visit www.rcsnewbern.com.

(Sources: Religious Community Services; National Coalition for Homeless Veterans; U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs; U.S. Census Bureau; WCTI TV; Senator Rob Portman; and Program Evaluation Division North Carolina General Assembly.)

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