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Organizations working together to address area veteran homelessness

FERRIDAY — The Miss-Lou’s economic and geographic position may be the perfect storm to exacerbate veteran homelessness.

But local veterans’ advocates aim to take preventative steps to care for those who have protected America’s freedom with the Miss-Lou Veterans Stand Down.

Representatives from several different organizations will be present at the event to inform veterans of entitlements and things he or she can do to prevent homelessness and poverty, event coordinator Kenny Rushing said.

The event will start at 9 a.m. at Central Louisiana Technical College on both Aug. 13 and 14.

“It’s important to make sure those people that served our country are getting what they deserve,” Rushing said. “The stand down will identify veterans that are at risk of being homeless or are currently homeless.”

Rushing said veterans could receive housing vouchers, clothing vouchers and other benefits by attending the event.

“In rural environments, it is difficult to bring all these services to one place,” he said. “This will be a one-stop shop for all the different needs a veteran might have. Veterans are also scattered in areas like the Miss-Lou, which means organizations never truly get blanket coverage.”

Veteran homelessness is increasingly becoming a problem as Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom wrap up In Iraq and Afghanistan, said Billy Varner, street outreach specialist for The Wellspring.

The Wellspring is a non-profit organization that advocates against a myriad of issues, including domestic violence, sexual assault and homelessness.

“Some veterans are living in destitute conditions, just bikes, a few things and a tarp,” Varner said. “I’ve seen veterans in Monroe that live in the woods right beside Walmart. We are seeing thousands of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This problem is only going to get worse.”

Department of Health and Hospitals Region 6 Director David Holcombe said the Miss-Lou and surrounding areas are especially subject to problems with veteran homelessness.

“There is a certain geographic isolation and relative absence of appropriate medical facilities that could contribute to problems,” Holcombe said.

But Rushing’s vision for improving veteran homelessness doesn’t end with the Miss-Lou Veterans Stand Down. He is also working on creating a non-profit organization called the Miss-Lou Veteran’s Village.

The village doesn’t currently occupy a physical location, but may comprise a veteran housing complex, a nursing home, organizational offices and 300 employees, if Rushing’s vision comes to fruition.

He estimated the complex would cost nearly $50 million, including the cost of building the village and employee salaries for five years. Rushing estimated securing funding would take approximately 10 years.

The complex would function through private partnerships and grants, he said.

“We are hoping that we can bring more attention to the plight of veterans in the area that may not be as fortunate,” he said.