Memphis non-profits fight to end veterans homelessness

dsc_0028Cordell Walker’s passion hasn’t changed. Every morning he rolls out of bed to change someone’s life at Alpha Omega Veterans Services Inc.

Walker hasn’t had much of a personal life for the last 28 years, but the feeling he said he experiences never gets old. Helping a veteran get back on his or her feet is worth all of the time and sacrifice.

Walker is the executive director at Alpha Omega Veterans Services Inc. and the 2013 Memphis City Council Humanitarian Award Recipient.

Walker said that he has always dreamed of being that person that can help anyone in need. He also said that he is put on earth to praise God and help those in need.

“Every individual is special and worthy. It is my job to do everything I can within my power to make sure that the individual is totally reintegrated back to society.” That motto is what he said drives him each and every day, but he did not just start thinking the way he does today.

All of the time and effort that many people like Cordell Walker put into helping homeless veterans is why we are starting to see a decrease in vets on the streets. In 2009, there were 144,842 former members of the military that were identified as homeless.

Due to the integrated programs, such as Alpha Omega Veterans Services Inc., that number has decreased by 65.6 percent. These programs were implemented to provide things that are most needed to get back on your feet when homeless.

The list includes physical health care, job assessment, personal development, mental health counseling, nutritional meals, placement assistance and secure housing.

Even the new hired Marie Williams, Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, has voiced that she is here to help with new programs. “I have a passion for helping the mentally ill, homeless, drug/alcohol addicts,” Williams said. “It inspires me build new innovative programs that will make changes for the good.”

Williams was the deputy commissioner of the department since 2011 and was oversaw the management of over $300 million to reinvest in selective programs and services. Like non-profit Alpha Omega, who has helped over 10,000 get back on their feet, these programs are put together to successfully decrease the number of homeless veterans.

Walker said veterans come to him with problems from no money to mental health issues to alcohol and drug addictions. According to Walker, this is a place that offers transformation for veterans that want to get “integrated back into life.”

Currently, 122 clients are participating in Alpha Omega’s services. Their clients usually arrive with barely food, money or even clothes. When a person starts in the program, the benefits immediately begin to roll in. As a place that tries to get a homeless vet back on their feet, Alpha Omega Veterans Services provides many things that help them take the next step to succeeding in life.

“We try to make sure that they get food, shelter, clothing, three meals a day, problem-solving groups, fellowship, to get back on their feet,” Walker said. “We want them to become independent, get back with their families and be constructive-productive individuals that they should be.”

Post-Traumatic stress disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, develops in some people after they have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event. This disorder is seen more often in veterans of the military after they experience tragic deaths, war, terrorist incidents and even life-threatening events.

Alpha Omega’s main focus has always been to “help veterans help themselves,” so they took it amongst themselves to make sure that the focus was validated with success. They used the money to start implementing new programs that have turned a 90 percent success rate.

Programs such as the duplex that provides food and shelter, ten additional independent congregate family homes, the 90-day Transitional Housing Program, the 30-day to 2-year Supportive Transitional Housing and Drop-in Center, closed army depot facility, 32 permanent housing apartments, mobile outreach, room and board for Veterans Affairs Medical Center Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Program, Home Ownership Program, Veterans Life House (Hospice and Palliative Care Program) and 10 single resident occupancy units are all the reasons why the homeless veterans rate has dropped by 67.4 percent, according to National Alliance to End Homelessness.

One member at the Alpha Omega facility, Melvin Williams, served 23 years in the Navy and thinks he is the go-to person to vouch for Alpha Omega Veteran Service Inc.

“This place specifically has been very helpful to my life,” Williams said. “Being in an addiction and homeless I can’t believe that when I got here it changed everything.”

Williams gives all of his recent success to Alpha Omega. He felt that his life is now back on track because of the program that was created 29 years ago.

“They have restored my religious beliefs, my cooking skills and helped me be a clean man from drugs for 12 years now,” Williams said. “I practically owe this place my life.”

Other residents at the facility refer to Williams as “Executive Chef Man” because of his skills.

Nathan Beltner is also another current resident and said he has experienced the same success. “I needed a place to stay, but when I got here I received more than just shelter, I learned how to be productive in the world when I leave,” Beltner said.

Another veteran of the United States Navy, Wakefield Davis, says, “I call this place a resource center because it has helped me in so many ways like when I lost my job.” Things like offering access to wellness programs, the educational system, jobs and even getting his medical benefits back that he lost when he was laid off of his job made him “fall in love” with Alpha Omega Veterans Services Incorporated.

As the program continues to grow and intersect with many veterans who become clients, Alpha Omega Veterans Services Incorporated begins offering the very people they help a chance at employment. At least that is the story of Chicago native and former client of Alpha Omega from 2008 until 2010, Kevin Ferrell.

“While I was here, I was trained to become a pure counselor and today I’m happy to say that I’m the Certified Pure Specialist for Alpha Omega Veterans Services since 2010,” Ferrell said. “I was at death’s door. My alcohol and drug addictions almost killed me, but this place gave me the tools and a job.”

Ferrell thinks this specific program is a small card in a machine that needs more pieces to make it work. Those other pieces are all needed to complete the puzzle. There are many other programs created around the country that have helped cut down veteran homelessness. The city of New Orleans has stated that they have ended veteran homelessness in their town.

Alpha Omega Veterans Services Incorporated is one of many organizations in the United States that is constantly striving to find ways to end veteran homelessness. Cordell Walker doesn’t see himself leaving this place and says that he will continue to find ways to get the veteran homelessness number to zero. Today, this company has sprouted into a resource center that has served over 10,000 people and kept a 90 percent success rate for getting them back on their feet.

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About the Author

Catrell Maclin

I’m a senior broadcast journalism major at the University of Memphis. My past experiences include ESPN, Fox 13, NBC Network, Global Basketball Television reporter and President of Ultimate Preps Television LLC. I have been a journalist for six years and desire to become the best storytelling reporter of my time.

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