Two Downtown transitional housing programs offer hope to those who served in the military but lost their way at home. Both Veterans Village and U.S. Vets-Las Vegas‘ goal is to end veteran homelessness by integrating former soldiers back into the community.
Veterans Village (1150 S. Las Vegas Blvd.), a retrofitted 1960s Econo Lodge hotel, opened in 2012. (After 9/11, it became a dubious stop for tourists as one of the places the terrorists stayed while investigating Las Vegas as a possible attack site.) The community was founded by president and executive director Arnold Stalk (pictured top), who decided to devote his life to this calling to honor his father, a World War II veteran. He is currently working on opening a second location in Henderson.
“This problem is solvable,” Stalk says. “Homelessness is a symptom of a larger problem and we have a program that works for homeless veterans.” According to Stalk, success is measured by vets becoming members of mainstream society.
“We are the safety net, or bridge, for veterans’ housing,” he says. “We bring in veterans off the street, house them, give them food and clothing, job training, educational resources, medical, dental and mental health treatment. We give everything someone needs to plug back into the community.”
U.S. Vets (525 E. Bonanza Rd.) provides similar support. Open since 2001, the facility includes over 330 transitional and permanent housing units.
“We help [vets] back into housing, work with a case manager, possibly reconnect with family whom they have estranged…Many times, these veterans visit us [later] with their children, who are now a part of their lives,” says Shalimar Cabrera, executive director of U.S. Vets-Las Vegas.
Cabrera adds that about 80 percent of the veterans living in U.S. Vets housing will move on to their own permanent homes typically within 45 to 55 days.
For employment opportunities, Veterans Village has developed partnerships with the Home Depot Foundation, Western Cab, Wynn/Encore, Caesars Entertainment and Station Casinos.
Many vets have stable jobs through these partnerships. A husband and wife came off the street to Veterans Village with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. “They started looking for work immediately and went out every day,” says Wendy Grant, crisis intervention coordinator for Veterans Village. “Today, both the husband and wife are working for Station Casinos. I can see the light in their eyes again.” The couple plans to continue living in the Downtown area to give back.
The U.S. Vets workforce program helps 100 veterans find employment each year, according to Cabrera.
One being Joe Michael Riggi, author of Code Name: Eagle Force, who now visits the apartment complex where he once lived to share his success. While living there, Raggi was receiving chemotherapy due to effects of Agent Orange. During this period, Riggi decided to write his book about covert operations during the Vietnam era. It was published in 2007.
Riggi credits the assistance given for helping him accomplish this goal. “It was because of the help of U.S. Vets, I was able to get through the system as quickly as I did,” he says.