Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Lauren Ellermeyer
Unfortunately, it’s a common tale. War rages in a distant land, and a young man is called upon to serve. Leaving behind his home, family and friends — he endures a journey that begins with regimented training and ends on a battlefield surrounded by the dead and the wounded … as well as enemies, bullets, bombs. and fear. Fear that permeates the soul, injures the spirit and leaves a soldier in pieces emotionally, if not also physically. He arrives back in the USA to discover that he has not left the war behind. It stalks him. It hurts him. It leaves him unable to cope with everyday civilian life. Suffering from PTSD as well as other debilitating conditions, he can’t focus or function, he can’t hold a job, and he cannot hold onto relationships. He ends up homeless and wandering… searching for help, for a chance to regain the future that once held such promise. The good news is, there is hope for him. American Family Housing’s mission is to reach out and pull him to safety.
Of the 578,424 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. in 2014, 13 percent were war veterans. American Family Housing (AFH) is a nonprofit organization that provides a continuum of housing and a broad spectrum of related services to vulnerable populations, including war veterans in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties. The people of AFH are committed to permanently ending the cycle of homelessness—helping veterans achieve a self-sustaining way of life and become engaged and contributing members of their communities. This organization’s methods are particularly effective, as they provide integrated services that support veterans toward physical and mental wellness, synchronized with innovative housing services that bring these people to a safe haven in which to repair their lives. Everyone receives unconditional support and a chance to live a better life, whether they are clean and sober or still suffering from the effects of addiction, abuse, physical disabilities or mental illness.
Tenacious Leadership, Effective Results
AFH’s housing director, Michael Taylor, works tirelessly to provide traditional sources of housing to vets. Because AFH does not own all of the properties, a part of Taylor’s job is to build relationships with landlords. As a Navy veteran who understands a vet’s mindset, he can effectively persuade reluctant landlords to welcome them. “Some landlords fret that renting to veterans will lead to problems,” he said. “They’re afraid of Rambo.” As each veteran proves to be a model tenant, and as each landlord is won over, Taylor celebrates a victory for this deserving group.
AFH president and CEO Donna Gallup leads the organization with the same commitment to service that has marked her extensive career as a human services advocate. Currently, Gallup is guiding the development of a 16-unit, 8,640-square-foot complex called Potter’s Lane in Midway City, Calif. The revolutionary design of Potter’s Lane encourages veterans and other residents to feel like part of a beautiful community — a home where they make friends and no one is lost in the bustle of a larger project. The traumatized soldier can settle in, receive treatment for PTSD and rebuild his life.
The Help They Need
Southern California has some of the most expensive real estate in the country, and recent years have seen a drop in government funding for organizations that help house lower-income people. “The need is critical, especially for homeless veterans,” said Gallup. “They’re really priced out of the market.” AFH overcomes these challenges in part with the help of groups like the Seal Beach Lions Club in Orange County. The Lions regularly participate in events such as the AFH Thanksgiving Project and clothing drives benefitting homeless vets through AFH. Lion, Laura Ellsworth, donated several bags of clothing to the most recent drive. “My father was a veteran who fought for our freedom, and this is my way of honoring his memory,” she said.
The Lions and other groups provide part of the funding needed for projects like Potter’s Lane. But this innovative $1.9 million project requires the assistance of many people. With enough donations to AFH’s current fundraising efforts, Potter’s Lane could be ready by July 2016. As a way of thanking contributors, community centers, gardens, buildings and more will be named after donors. The next hurdle is to make sure that every potential supporter has heard about this opportunity. From corporate sponsors to service clubs to individuals who care — all are welcome to help with contributions and volunteerism. They’re also asked to share the story of AFH so that funding goals are reached, enabling more homeless veterans to leave war behind, finally, and begin life anew.
Lauren Ellermeyer is fundraising chair and board member of American Family Housing. Co-founder of Beyond Fifteen Communications, Inc., Ellermeyer has more than 10 years of professional experience in public relations and social media. American Family Housing (AFH) is a nonprofit organization that provides a continuum of housing and a broad spectrum of related services to vulnerable populations facing barriers to achieving housing stability, including war veterans and adults with disabilities and mental illness.