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Homeless veterans find help in Joliet

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You can help the Family & Friends Transitional Veterans Home in Joliet by donating any combination of the following items: personal care products, gift cards, train and bus passes, kitchen items, paper products, bags (sandwich, freezer and garbage), newspaper and magazine subscriptions, Bibles and other books of faith, entertainment (original CDs, DVDs and videos), office supplies, cleaning supplies, throw rugs and twin-size bed linens.

For more information, call 815-280-5783 or visit www.2saveaveteran.org.

Updated: January 10, 2014 6:23AM



Henry Coomer, of Joliet, clearly remembers the day three years ago when his wife announced she was pregnant with their daughter.

Coomer, 46, was spending 60 days behind bars for a DUI conviction, and his wife had brought their 2-year-old son with her, he said.

Fast-forward 12 months. Coomer had completed rehabilitation but now was divorced, broke and homeless.

Today, Coomer is living in his own apartment, receiving counseling and financial assistance for his disabilities and rebuilding relationships with his family, thanks to Catherine Beavers and her Family & Friends Transitional Veterans Home in Joliet.

Beavers began the home, which has two locations (both are full with a waiting list), four years ago in honor of her son Jesse Beavers, a disabled veteran who founded A Hero’s Place, a Washington, D.C., resource center for homeless veterans.

According to Beavers’ website, the motto for her home is “to serve veterans who are homeless, physically and mentally challenged with utmost respect and dignity by providing housing advocacy, therapeutic and supportive services. Our goal is to promote resident stability and independence.”

Beavers said she often has opened her doors to people and animals needing a home, so creating a program for homeless veterans was a logical move for her. A federal grant covers many of costs associated with the home, and Beavers digs into her 401(k) to supply the needs the grant can’t meet.

The results are worth any sacrifice, Beavers believes.

“These guys are living in cars or trucks, sleeping at the side of the road or at service stations,” Beavers said. “Once they get here, we get them fed and give them counseling and job training to get them back on track.”

For Coomer, who served in the Army from 1987 to 1990, his stay at the home meant receiving care for his alcohol addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder, while learning to once again appreciate life’s greatest treasures.

“My daughter sang me her ‘ABCs’ the other day,” Coomer said with a smile.

The home provides housing for veterans from Joliet, Lockport, Lemont, New Lenox, Romeoville, Bolingbrook, Morris and throughout the Chicago area, the website says.

It states that veterans must be male, have a greater than dishonorable military discharge and pass a background check, breath screening and drug test. Veterans must also have a history of post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse (30-day sobriety preferred) and/or depression.

Disqualification criteria include less than 180 military days served, any history of aggressive behavior and a conviction involving sexual crimes. Trained outreach workers will assess and recommend services and referrals.

Beavers said her transitional housing program is networked with a variety of community service providers, including those relating physical psychiatric disorders, as well as substance abuse. The home provides transportation to those services.

Beavers said she works closely with several agencies to eventually transition veterans into their own apartments.

Overall, though, Beavers is saddened by what she sees as a lack of general support, awareness and understanding of the plight of these veterans.

“Imagine going off with a bunch of guys you don’t know, seeing someone get shot and lose an arm or leg, watching your best friend get killed, and now you’re back home living with your spouse, except you don’t have a support system and your spouse doesn’t know how to cope,” Beavers said. “Once you’re divorced, there’s not a lot of options out there. So you end up on the streets.”

Ronald Vann, 56, who served in the Army from 1976 to 1979, is in the process of moving into an apartment. Before coming to the veterans home in 2011, Vann had completed rehabilitation for his alcohol and cocaine addictions. Yet it was the home that motivated him to stick with it.

“I had a place to eat, sleep and call home,” Vann said. “I had things to do. They put me back in touch with myself.”

One of those “things” Vann did was straightening headstones at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Beavers said. However, it soon became obvious that the arthritis in Vann’s feet would prevent him from returning to the work force, so Beavers helped Vann apply for disability.

Still, Vann insists, despite the available services, each homeless veteran must address the cause of his homelessness.

“It’s up to the individual,” Vann said. “If he doesn’t want to change, if he wants to go back the other way, then he can run. There’s no one here locking him down.”



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