By Katie Sobiech
This New Year is going to bring a fresh, new start for many homeless veterans – giving them the hope and healing they have needed.
On February 4th, 2013, a 30 bed facility run by Family and Community Services will open its doors to homeless veterans.
“When President Obama was elected the first time, a group of people were inspired by one of his speeches that asked ‘What can you do for your community?’ They researched and found that Northeast Ohio had the least amount of veterans homeless beds in the United States,” David Peacock, Drama Therapist, said.
So they came up with this idea.
The land was purchased from Akron Metropolitan Housing and all of the building is being done by Habitat for Humanity volunteers.
Several initiatives began four years ago, including the Freedom House. Other projects are starting in Lorain and Warren.
Breaking the Cycle
What differentiates this facility from all of the others is its therapeutic touch.
“It’s a therapeutic approach from the moment they come to the moment they leave,” Peacock said.
“It’s somewhere to recover from chronic homelessness. You have to build communities so the individual can recover. The individual can’t recover on his own,” he continued.
Startling statistics surround the reality of homeless veterans.
“Since the Civil War there have always been homeless veterans. This last year there were 52,000 veterans sleeping on the streets of the state every night,” Peacock said.
“The numbers have never really gone down. We hope to break that cycle,” he continued.
Peacock, a UK veteran himself, serving 10 years in the British forces, knows what these men need.
“I have an understanding of what it is to be a veteran and what it’s like to serve. I’ve done about 4 or 5 projects, worked with homeless people in the UK, children in Brazil and here in Akron,” he shared.
His wife is a drama therapist who runs “The Women’s Warriors Project” from First Christ Church once a month. This focuses on women and the intricate and unique situations they find themselves in as veterans, some who have suffered malicious sexual assault. Others are mothers, wives, aunts or sisters veterans and have stories to tell.
Back into Society
“In the past it’s been about bringing them (the veterans) in, getting them a job and putting them in an apartment, but it’s unrealistic to take someone off the streets who’s been chronically homeless for 20 years and in a very short space of time say to them ‘You have to go to work now’,” Peacock said.
“They’re not psychologically fit enough, or emotionally mature enough,” he continued.
At the end of an intensive 12 weeks the men will then start dealing with employment and getting back to work.
“The difference between this shelter and other shelters is that this is going to be a therapeutic community. Homelessness doesn’t just start by bad luck. There’s a series of events that get you to homelessness – they could be addiction, post-traumatic stress, mental health, or loss of job, home, family, house, or gambling addiction and drugs, alcohol, whatever,” Peacock explained.
“Most of the guys that we end up with are chronic homeless, stuck in a cycle of homelessness. They’ve probably accessed the VA (Veterans Affairs) services before and it’s not worked out for them. It’s not criticism to the services that the VA offer, but it’s just that they weren’t ready to deal with it. What we’re going to do in this home is give them an opportunity, and at the same time, lovingly challenge them,” he continued.
As a drama therapist, Peacock will share all types of art and healing with the men.
“Everything they do here is therapeutic. We’re going to work with creative art therapy,” Peacock said.
“A lot of these guys have seen psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists and for them it hasn’t worked. Or they’ve been through a 12-step program and haven’t gotten it. So we’re going to use art therapy, drama therapy, creative writing and poetry,” he continued.
They are also going to use equine therapy to help them recover from trauma. Six rescue horses will be on the property.
“Riding these horses is about building up trust,” Peacock said, “The guys that live here don’t have any trust. They’re at war. The war never stopped for them. They’re at war with the establishment, the VA, the police, everyone. It’s in their head.”
Different therapists will come in daily, helping the men with every area of their lives as well.
“We’ll help them clean up the wreckage caused by their homelessness,” Peacock said.
“Something happens in basic training. They break everyone down and then they build everyone back up in the way they want them to be built back up. They want your mind. You’re like a TV that’s put on standby,” Peacock said.
“What we have to do is de-program. In basic training they are only interested in your mind and your body. The thing he’s not interested in is your soul. I’m interested in your soul and your spirit,” Peacock continued.
“When these guys go off to conflict they leave their identity on the battlefield. So he comes back and people say ‘he’s different now. He’s not like he used to be.’ Well he isn’t because he left his identity on the battlefield,” Peacock said.
There’s psychology behind it.
“What I have to do with my staff team is go back to the battlefield with them and get his identity and bring him home so that he can be a complete person,” Peacock explained.
What to Expect
The building will have all of the furnishings of a real home, including computers.
“They’re going to learn how to send an email, social networking and research stuff. These guys are from a generation that missed out on computers,” Peacock said.
There will be a meditation room, not of any one particular religion or belief system.
“We’re going to have a chaplain. It’s a quiet place for reflection, meditation and prayer. It’s in the center of the building for a reason, because it’s the heart of what we’re teaching,” Peacock said.
They also work with Warriors Journey Home – a group that meets out of First Congregational Church in Tallmadge.
The group actually re-visits battlefields in Vietnam.
“It’s a great work. Veterans go there every other Sunday to meet and sit in a circle and share their experiences,” Peacock said.
The Gentleman’s Club next door is even sharing some of their land.
“We’re going to be friends with everyone, regardless of what people think about Gentleman’s Clubs and what goes on over there. I can either ignore it or be friends with them and hopefully change people’s minds and attitudes that way,” Peacock said.
“(The Gentleman’s Club) is going to let us use this to grow our own fruit and vegetables,” Peacock said, “We’re going to have a huge garden and feed ourselves.”
There won’t be any processed food served in the home; it will be cooked from scratch.
Along with horses will be American Red Camp chickens.
“If someone doesn’t start a breeding program they’re going to become extinct so we’re going to get a breeding program here,” Peacock said.
“We want to work with the community and want to bridge that gap between the veteran and civilian population, cause usually when you meet a veteran you say ‘Welcome home and thank you for your service’ and we want it deeper than that. We want to get the civilian population really involved with these guys,” Peacock said.
They are currently brainstorming various ways to make this possible.
“We’re thinking about starting a project where people can sponsor a veteran every month for a set sum of money, and we’ll send them a report of how the veteran is doing. We can also invite community groups to come in and have a community night with the veterans,” he said.
This could be anyone from the Chamber of Commerce to a church group taking them out bowling, watching a game together, or barbecuing.
They run workshops on how to work with veterans as well.
“People often come with a misunderstanding of ‘Oh just brush yourself off and get on with it’,” Peacock said, explaining that it’s not possible for the mentally ill to do that.
“Although homelessness comes across as something that can be solved, it’s very, very complicated,” Peacock continued.
But they continue to do what they can, working together with the community to offer hope and solutions to these struggling men and women.
If you are interested in finding out more about this organization and/or how you can help, please contact David Peacock at 330-217-4688 or go to: valorhome.org/