COLUMBIA — Randall Ward has been living in Welcome Home Inc., a local veterans home, since September. Ward, who served in the Army for 12 years, said his life was "a real mess" before he came to live at the home.
Now, he has a fresh start.
“(Welcome Home Inc.) gives us an opportunity for another chance to go look for work and education. You get to cook, clean and basically live on your own to the point that you get back on your feet and get back to society and just become part of the world again,” Ward said.
Welcome Home Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 to provide shelter, food and social networks to Columbia’s homeless veteran population. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 33 percent of America’s homeless population served in the armed forces. According to Welcome Home Inc., one in five homeless people in Columbia is a veteran.
To help more veterans like Ward, Welcome Home Inc. is seeking donations to help veterans move out of its facilities and into their own homes.
The needs of Columbia’s homeless veterans go beyond the basics of nonperishable food and basic toiletries. Some of the largest obstacles faced by homeless veterans include transportation, employment and adequate clothing and shelter.
Because of these needs, the veterans at Welcome Home Inc. benefit from donations of bicycles, bus passes and shoes – along with donations of furniture, appliances, clothing and nonperishable food. Financial donations are also vital to the operation of the facility.
“Monetary donations always help with our administration costs," said Melissa Acton, associate director of Welcome Home Inc. "Any good-condition clothing, household items, furniture or pots and pans would be great in helping our veterans.”
Residents are constantly moving out of the Welcome Home Inc. home at 1206 Range Line St. Acton said the organization moves veterans into homes of their own. While funding is in place to achieve that goal, many of the apartments don't really seem like home.
“One of the gaps in our system is that we have the financing to get veterans into their own apartment, but they are left with an empty apartment,” Acton said.