Providing comfort

Welcome Home offers
a warm atmosphere
for veterans returning
from battle, many of whom suffer from mental
trauma in the field.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:59 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

As a volunteer in the early 1980s, Stephana Landwehr would often overhear inmates talk about going to hell.

Vietnam veterans serving time at the Correctional Facility in Moberly would talk about their fear of moral condemnation. They were haunted by their actions in the line of duty.

Landwehr expressed her concern to J.C. Wright, one of the inmates and a vet, about their fears.

“They are not afraid; they know they are going,” Wright said.

Landwehr said those overheard conversations still burn in her. She thought it was wrong for these men to understand hell not as a fear, but as an accepted fate.

Nonetheless, Landwehr recognized the positive influence the conversations had on the men. They created their own support system on a self-initiated basis.

At 43 years old, Landwehr set out to build a place that would provide a healing atmosphere for returning soldiers, 45 percent of whom are diagnosed with some form of mental illness and 50 percent suffering from substance abuse.

Landwehr envisioned Welcome Home as a collaborative project between veterans and the community.

In 1985, Landwehr and four others incorporated Welcome Home as a not-for-profit organization. In 1993, Welcome Home opened its residency at 1206 Range Line St.

Welcome Home is a transitional home for homeless veterans dedicated to becoming productive members of society. Ideally, residents would move on within 90 to 120 days. They are generally allowed to stay longer, though, provided they can show progress in attaining their goals.

“I don’t want people who are going to come in here for 30 days and fall off the wagon again,” said Rose Mitchell, executive director of Welcome Home. “It makes it really hard for the other guys.”

The residency has 11 single rooms allowing each client privacy. Communal spaces allow for recreation and mutual support.

Grants administered through Columbia, Office of Community Services, private donations and the efforts of residents provide the necessary funding to keep the doors open at Welcome Home. The organization estimates its costs $20 per night per resident.

Mitchell is a licensed clinical social worker with a long career in mental health services. She came out of retirement in 2003 to become the home’s executive director. She is the only full-time employee, supported by volunteers Joanie Hardaway and Marcella Smith.

Mitchell describes ideal candidates as people dedicated to getting their lives back on track. Clients must agree to an individually created set of goals and a structured lifestyle. Residents are expected to remain sober, work, contribute 30 percent of their earnings to the home, save an additional 25 percent and participate in community service.

Mitchell provides clients with regular group and individual counseling sessions and makes sure clients attend regular support meetings at Truman Veterans Hospital. She also intervenes in times of crisis.

“You see them about to fall off the wagon,” Mitchell said. “I spend a lot of time with them trying to show them the options and face what they have to do.”

Roy Childs, another client at Welcome Home, attributes his success and that of others largely to Welcome Home’s structured routine, cleanliness, and everyone’s same goal.

“I get to remember the pain,” Childs said. “That is what keeps me strong.”

Post traumatic stress disorder is common among veterans. The disorder is a type of anxiety disorder in response to some sort of perceived threat or trauma.

Mitchell tells the story of a Vietnam veteran returning from a trip to the corner store. Crossing the parking lot that separates it from Welcome Home, a car backfired. Instinctively he dove behind the car and began throwing oranges at it.

Michael Moore, a psychologist in the Behavioral Health Department of Truman Veterans Hospital, defines three major symptoms of the disorder — intrusive recollections of events, such as nightmares or flashbacks; autonomic arousal, or symptoms commonly associated with anxiety; and the tendency to avoid stimuli associated with that trauma, often resulting in isolation and emotional detachment.

“PTSD often occurs simultaneously with other disorders, such as depression and substance abuse,” Moore said.

The disorder manifests itself in a manner unique to each patient.

Isaac Smith, a resident at Welcome Home, grew up in a loveless foster care system in Chicago. His grandfather was a successful club owner with a history of heroin addiction. Isaac never knew his parents.

Smith joined the Marines out of high school. He associates this time in his life with depression. It was the first time he was on his own, and he was surrounded by other soldiers who had come from family environments.

Following a failed marriage, Smith assumed full care of his children. When his youngest son graduated from high school in 1989, Smith felt for the first time in his life he was without responsibility. Recreational drug use led to addiction. Between 1989 and 2002, Smith lived on the streets of St. Louis.

“I just didn’t care at all and didn’t think I would ever get back,” Smith said. “That is all that kind of life leads to — lockup, institutions or death.”

Smith, 49, entered Welcome Home last spring. He’s been clean for almost two years.

“I forgot the person I could be,” Smith said.

Smith interviews Thursday for a job as a machinist in New Bloomfield. He volunteers at the New Life Transitional Center, a religious transitional center.

For him, Welcome Home was there when he needed it. “It was a home for me to lay my head,” Smith said. “It is a big difference from the streets.”

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