New Housing Options For NE Iowa Homeless Veterans

Nov 10, 2016

Black Hawk County VA Executive Director Kevin Dill (l) and Americans for Independent Living Director Tim Combs in front of a donated house that is being renovated for a veterans shelter.
Credit Brandon Pollock/Waterloo Courier

Sometimes the transition from being a solider to being a civilian is more difficult than any battlefield assignment.  Readjustment sometimes means trouble finding a job and in some cases no permanent place to live.

There will soon be more options in northeast Iowa for veterans who have completed their service and need a safe place to live while they contemplate what’s next.

From the time he was discharged from the US Army back in 1990, life has been struggle for 46 year old Jeff Skinner.

“You know I’ve battled with drug addictions, alcoholism, mental issues that hit a peak once I left the military, “ said Skinner.

Skinner bounced from place to place and was in and out of treatment programs.  Late this summer, after he was discharged from a Waterloo hospital, he found himself without a place to live.

Black Hawk County Veteran Affairs Executive Director Kevin Dill says there’s an average of five to 30 homeless veterans in the county each month

“Some of them have nowhere to go, they just go back to the street, back to living in their car, on their friend’s couch or sometimes the Catholic Worker House will have a space for them," he said.

In August the first of two new housing options became available.  Goodwill Industries of Northeast Iowa opened a four bedroom home in Cedar Falls. 

“It is a good fit for Goodwill it’s been our mission for a long time to help people with disabilities," says Steve Tisue, the Vice President of Human Services.  "We operate many houses like this and when you start talking about a veterans program it just became a good fit.”

Tisue says Goodwill also provides transportation for such things as doctor’s appointments and financial counseling. In return, they employ the vets in entry level positions so they‘re able to help with rent on a sliding scale basis.

Jeff Skinner says having a safe place to live and a job at Goodwill is helping him adjust to life without a uniform

“I mean it feels good, I have something to look forward to each and every day I work like anybody else does.” he said. I work Monday through Friday and have Saturday and Sunday off.  I feel like a regular human being.” said Skinner.

Just 10 miles to the east in Waterloo, another housing option is taking shape. An anonymous donor has given a house to the non-profit group Americans for Independent Living.

Director Tim Combs says after some extensive renovation, it will serve as a homeless shelter for veterans.

“It’s about a one thousand square foot house, it was built in 1910," he said. "The family owned it until 2005, it’s got a good sized living room and kitchen, it has three bedrooms upstairs and a full basement. It will have two bathrooms in it, it’s decent structure."

Combs says his goal is to get the project finished before the snow flies, but it will take donations of labor, supplies and elbow grease

“Some skilled trades volunteers would be great, electrical issues that need to be handled, plumbing issues, somebody who can screw dry wall on and paint and clean up," he said. "Other than that, that some volunteers who could maybe to stay here for maybe a shift once we get some individuals in to may be oversee.”

Combs does have a good foundation as far as funding is concerned, his agency got a $100,000 donation from President-elect Donald Trump’s foundation at a fundraiser at Drake University this past January.

VA Director Kevin Dill says both projects go a long way to help struggling veterans find a path to a more stable life.

“The veterans who have gone over to the home in Cedar Falls, a number of them have gotten jobs, they’re living in their own apartment, on their own they’re going to work.  If we can just get this house done it will be a good thing for some other veterans,” said Dill.

Additional housing for other northeast Iowa vets will soon be available. Goodwill Industries plans to open a similar veteran’s house in Dubuque before the end of the year.