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January 02, 2013 10:00 PM

A War On Homelessness

Sioux Falls, SD

They're often called heroes.  Veterans of war are welcomed home with large celebrations and showered with warm praise. But when the ceremonies end, many veterans find themselves on the cold streets with nowhere to live.  But efforts are underway to get homeless vets back on their feet. 

Fresh snow illuminates the area around the Berakhah House in Sioux Falls.  But those inside know all too well a dark reality for thousands of American veterans.

"When we've been fighting wars for the last eight to ten years, that has a cumulative effect on these guys.  They really struggle coming back, I think.  Adjusting from multiple deployments, it creates strife in marriages and housing and everything else, and employment," Veterans Service Coordinator Chris Nelson said.

Nelson is working to end homelessness among veterans.  Veterans Affairs says more than 300 vets were homeless in 2011 in Minnehaha County alone.

"I think we're having some success in reducing the number of homeless veterans here in Sioux Falls.  And you know, that's a good feeling," Nelson said.

Nelson, a Vietnam War veteran, can share that good feeling with Brian Eggers.  Eggers spent six years in the service doing everything from jumping from planes to wrenching on helicopters.  After his time in the service, things got tough.

"Unfortunately, I kind of reached a point in my life where I reached rock bottom, through medical issues as well as economic issues.  Wound up one day basically with nowhere to stay," Eggers said.

Eggers eventually reached out to the V.A., which put him in contact with the Berakhah House in Sioux Falls.

"They set goals for us.  Weekly, we sit down and have meetings and they chart our progress and decide where we're going to go that week and beyond," Eggers said.

The Berakhah House can help nine veterans at a time.  In the past two years, more than 100 veterans have been through the house with most of them going on to community living.  Eggers recently left the house and has an apartment of his own.  He hopes there will be more success stories like his, but urges veterans to seek help, because overcoming the emotional wounds of the battlefield isn't a one-person battle.

"Don't let pride hold you back.  I did that for a long time.  I found out that there are so many resources out there that I could have had the entire time, had I reached out," Eggers said.

The V.A., Volunteers of America and the Catholic Diocese have launched another program placing veterans in their own home, while still offering them services to get their lives on track.  That new program will help support 25 veterans each day.

"This allows more flexibility to veterans.  They can live and be near where they work or where their services are.  It is much more convenient for them," Nelson said.

It's all part of a mission to end homelessness among American veterans, a goal set to be accomplished by the V.A. in the next two years.

"We're working towards that.  Whether or not we'll accomplish that is questionable, but I think it is a good objective to have," Nelson said.

But until that goal is reached, the battle to keep veterans off the streets will continue.

Volunteers of America also has a veterans outreach center on 14th Street in Sioux Falls.  There, veterans can shower, do laundry and use computers to update resumes.

Donations are always needed, but what's in demand is always changing.

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