• Editor’s note: This month, the Herald is featuring a series of stories on the Holiday Wish Lists of Mid-Columbia nonprofits and how you can help. Nominate nonprofits by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with attention to Holiday Wish List. Please include the name and mission of the nonprofit, contact information and a few specific needs. See more Wish List stories at www.tricityherald.com/wishlist.
For many veterans, the Columbia Basin Veterans Coalition is a first step in navigating an overwhelming situation.
The nonprofit provides services to honorably discharged veterans with real needs. For services the coalition can’t provide, it helps veterans find an agency or group that does.
“If somebody is working on helping themselves, we are going to go to bat for them,” said Joetta Rupert, the nonprofit’s executive director.
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Unfortunately, Rupert said, the coalition is seeing more and more veterans who need help. It has served more than 400 walk-in clients this year.
And the nonprofit’s operating budget is slim at $150,000 a year. Rupert is the nonprofit’s only paid employee, although the nonprofit’s board is in the process of hiring a housing case manager.
A large portion of the coalition’s budget is for its transitional housing program for homeless veterans, which costs about $56,000 a year, or about 37 percent of the agency’s budget.
With the need high and resources limited, Rupert said it helps to have the success stories, such as a veteran who recently paid back a loan that he had received from the nonprofit’s veteran relief fund to help pay the transportation cost so he could get to Portland for surgery, Rupert said. He now has a job and more stable housing.
The relief fund frequently helps veterans travel to Veterans Health Administration medical appointments outside of the Tri-City area. Sometimes it is used to help pay for gas so a veteran can drive to a job interview. Recently it helped one veteran afford a haircut that his new employers requested he get.
Any donation amount is helpful because the nonprofit gets quite a few requests that can only be served with loans from the relief fund, Rupert said. Twice this year that fund has been empty. Some needs veterans have don’t fit in one particular program, and so the nonprofit turns to that fund.
Right now, the nonprofit is receiving quite a few requests for assistance with electricity bills, Rupert said. The requests are from both renters and homeowners, who are more difficult to help because few programs exist to help homeowners.
The nonprofit has distributed about $1,500 from the nonprofit’s relief fund in 23 different loans to veterans in need so far this year.
The nonprofit does not typically just hand out money. Instead, Rupert said it will provide bus passes or go and pay an electric bill for a veteran. And each veteran must provide proof of service and proof of need.
Recently, several veterans have graduated from the nonprofit’s transitional housing program, so there are about three openings each at the Kennewick and Richland homes, Rupert said. The Kennewick home is for older male veterans, and the Richland home is for younger male veterans. Veterans in the program must requalify every six months.
Some of the veterans who graduated from the program moved into unfurnished apartments, so the nonprofit needs a queen bed and a twin bed to replace those given to the graduates. The coalition requests new mattresses only. Also needed is bedding for twin and queen beds and pillows.
The homes also could use a new computer, printer and scanner at each to help veterans who live in the homes with their job searches, Rupert said.
Plastic garbage bags, coffee, paper towels, laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, dish soap, toilet paper and bath soap are needed for the homes and the coalition could use jerky, bottled water, canned fish and meat, chips and cookies to help stock a closet of food and clothing.
One of the nonprofit’s largest wishes is to find funding to pay for a service officer to help veterans navigate the long, bureaucratic process of applying for medical and disability benefits, Rupert said. That would cost about $50,000 a year.
That help is what half the veterans who contact the coalition are looking for, she said. It can take two years from the time a veteran applies to when he or she actually gets help, if at all.
The coalition works with a lot of different agencies, and offers office space for members of Vet Corps, which helps veterans who want to go to school, a mental health counselor from the Walla Walla Vet Center, a housing assistant with the federal Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, and a WorkSource employee who helps disabled veterans with job searches.