Dorm opens in Durham for homeless veterans returning to civilian life

CorrespondentJuly 20, 2013 

Veterans returning from war may find the transition back to civilian life difficult.

CAARE Inc., a nonprofit “one-stop shop” promoting a holistic, community concept of health, is opening a new dormitory for homeless vets this summer to help.

The agency currently houses nine male veterans in three homes around the community. The dormitory will serve 15 more with private rooms and baths. The dorm also has a common area, a kitchen and two offices.

Veterans are overrepresented in the homeless population, accounting for 10 percent of all adults but 16 percent of homeless adults, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics.

In 2010, an estimated 144,842 veterans were homeless out of nearly 22.4 million veterans overall, the center reported.

CAARE, at 214 Broadway St, has provided housing, health and counseling services since 1999. Its transitional housing is an up to two-year Department of Veteran Affairs program in which vets get meals, medical and dental services, and employment counseling.

Executive director Sharon Elliott-Bynum, who founded the agency, has a daughter in the Air Force and degrees in nursing, counseling and theology.

Her sister Patricia Amaechi, who died in 2009, had the idea for the dorm. A grant from the VA covered a third of CAARE’s total $900,000 expansion costs. The rest was raised through a combination of grants, charity and community support.

Veterans housed in the dorm must be free of a dishonorable discharge and dedicate themselves to starting anew, with help. CAARE is currently seeking funds to rehab a house behind the main shelter to be used for homeless female vets.

Although CAARE has provided job counseling, it will increase those services with the expansion.

“The Healing, Heroes for Hire Collaborative” combines the resources of eMerging Entrepreneurs, a small business training and entrepreneur-development service, and RockMountain Aquaponics, a veteran-owned agricultural company, while using CAARE as a base.

TJ Breeden, executive director of eMerging Entrepreneurs, says service member suicides tend to track with unemployment. “Once they start to recover, if they can’t get a job, they may go back to negative behavior,” he said.

A motivational speaker and former financial adviser, Breeden was awarded the Small Business Association’s 2013 North Carolina division “Veteran Entrepreneurship Advocate of the Year” and was an honoree of President Barack Obama’s “Champions of Change” award.

During an expo last summer at Fort Bragg, he met vets searching for work.

A soldier told him that when he interviewed for jobs, he felt employers were trying to psychoanalyze him for post-traumatic stress disorder instead of focusing on his capabilities.

‘Like ripples in a pond’

Hakeem Moore’s RockMountain Aquaponics combines raising fish, with hydroponics, plants grown in water, in a sustainable food system in which both nurture each other.

A donated, several-hundred-gallon rain cistern already sits in a space behind the new dorm that CAARE has dedicated to teaching veterans urban/aquaponic farming techniques.

Moore can relate to many vets that go through CAARE’s transitional housing.

He received a medical retirement from the Army in 2010 after 13 years of service. After dealing with PTSD from war experiences, he learned about aquaponics and says it helped him overcome emotional and psychological issues.

Moore said sustainable farming skills could translate into a future job or business, as well as give the shelter’s vets solace.

“It’s like ripples in a pond, but it might turn into a wave of social change,” he said.

Elliot-Bynum hopes CAARE’s new dorm and transitional model helps vets heal and go from “homeless to homeowner” – like one of the first vets the agency helped years ago.

“Iron sharpens iron,” she said. “If we help somebody, they’ll tell others, and we’ll help them.”

Koonce: 919-685-2452

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