Military rallies to aid homeless veterans
by Sebastian Ruiz
Published - 01/03/08 - 08:52 AM | 1871 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Now that the coldest nights of the year have arrived, the Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) on Pacific Highway has opened a winter shelter that provides an extra 150 beds for homeless veterans in San Diego.

In cooperation with the city, the VVSD provides shelter, food and social services to aid more than 1,200 homeless persons who, according to the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, have identified themselves as veterans.

Located near the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in the Midway area, the shelter has been helping homeless veterans stay out of the biting cold for the past five years, said Vincent Schmidlkofer, VVSD communities project coordinator and winter shelter director.

"Nobody grows up saying they want to be homeless," he said.

The shelter opened its doors Dec. 5 and will operate through April 2.

The shelter operates 24 hours a day, and participants can come as go as they please during the day, said shelter organizers. However, rules dictate the homeless are not to leave between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., he said.

Through its comprehensive social services programs, the shelter serves as an entry point to the VVSD.

A veteran himself, Schmidlkofer said the program helps homeless veterans get back on track to a normal life. Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental and physical illnesses that often lead to drug and alcohol addiction, he said.

The VVSD is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility with additional social services to help veterans become employed and independent.

The three-phase program takes about 12 to 18 months to complete, he said.

The first phase includes drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The second phase includes job training and seeking. The third phase includes financial, legal and social services, including child support, health and financial services.

"By that time, they should be self-sufficient to go out and join mainstream society," he said.

The current facility, at 4141 Pacific Highway, can accommodate about 125 individuals.

The program is currently expanding into a second facility to fit an additional 120 or so veterans. Construction on the second facility is scheduled for completion in March.

That's when the third and final phase of expansion is scheduled to begin, Schmidlkofer said.

When finished, the facility would include six acres of sober-living apartment space and be able to accommodate more than 300 recovering veterans.

Bruce Boland, a VVSD board member, said the services provided by the facility would accommodate future veterans from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I think it's very, very important, and I think the need is going to continue," Boland said. "These people are not castaways. They're returning to be productive citizens."

Originally called Vietnam Veterans of San Diego and eventually renamed the Veterans Village of San Diego, the facility started in the 1980s out of the efforts of five Vietnam veterans.

While it caters primarily to veterans, the VVSD also works with a small number of nonveterans.

The VVSD also operates several other similar programs around San Diego County, including the 20-year-strong Stand Down event.

Stand Down is a three-day event usually held at San Diego High School every summer that provides health and legal services to homeless veterans, he said.

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