By Rebecca Metcalf
There are an estimated 38,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. today, according to Dan Schmier, director of operations at Veteran Village USA. Schmier, like many other Americans, finds it appalling to allow those who served our country to live on the streets. Therefore, he started the Flint-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in September 2019 with a simple mission—to feed, house, and support homeless and at-risk veterans. All they have to do to get help is show their discharge papers.
While Schmier understands that you can’t help all veterans immediately, he pledges to help them “one at a time.” The organization does this in a variety of ways. In order to feed hungry veterans, they issue Kroger grocery store gift cards. Schmier stated, “We have spent $10,000 to $20,000 in the last six months on groceries.” Veteran Village USA has also cut checks to the housing facility of veterans who have fallen behind on housing payments or are going into foreclosure. If veterans are homeless, the organization uses network outlets and support groups to place them in a home.
Veteran Village uses a variety of programs to help veterans, such as the Center for Reboot, where veterans can find support for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The organization also uses drug support mechanisms in Genesee County to help veterans that have fallen into drug use find the best place for their individual recovery. Additionally, the organization helps veterans find counseling by funneling them into a group or counselor that best suits them. Many veterans want a support group where they can talk to like-minded people.
You might be wondering what causes veterans to be homeless. According to Schmier, it is a combination of things. Many veterans don’t know who to go to or how to get help. They need an advocate. For some veterans, it is a psychological barrier. They have PTSD, and when they are told “No” by someone they are seeking help from, they get frustrated and give up.
I learned about this organization by picking up a business card at one of its donation boxes. Schmier is proud to tell me these boxes earn, “about $4,000 per month.” If you don’t feel comfortable donating at a box, there is a donation tab on the Veteran Village USA website. You can also give at one of its events. These include a “From Boots to Bowties Gala,” bowling for homeless veterans, and fundraisers at restaurants such as Panera Bread, Panda Express and Chipotle.
There are a variety of other ways to help besides donating money. You could also volunteer your time. Volunteers do clerical work, mail thank you notes, drive veterans to appointments, raise money, and more. Seventy six cents of every dollar earned goes to the vets. In other words, their administration costs are low. “There is only one paid person on staff. They work 25 hours a week,” said Schmier.
I was impressed by what Schmier calls Veteran Village’s “end game.” This is his vision for the future of the organization. Right now, they just own the office on Kelly Road in Flint. However, they are scouting locations currently and plan on having one secured within a year. Their goal is to open six locations throughout the U.S. in the next eight years. It is their hope that one of these locations will be a facility with 400 hotel-style rooms, each with its own beds and bathroom. Outside of the bedrooms would be communal space where different groups could come to meetings at the site. There would be career training on site, as well as training for leader dogs for the blind. This vision for the future also involves Whispering Winds Memorial Forest where loved ones of veterans that are cremated could plant their ashes under a tree with a plaque. The area would be family-friendly with barbecue grills and a jungle gym. The “end game” also includes a Veteran Village USA College Football Bowl. The application process for this has started. It takes about three years to come to fruition.
Indeed, it is a shame that we have so many homeless veterans on our streets, but with help from nonprofits like Veteran Village USA, we can make a difference for thousands of homeless veterans, even if only “one at a time.”
Veteran Village USA
5386 Kelly Rd.
Flint, MI 48504