ECHO Housing giving our veterans, who are struggling, a fighting chance.
Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd talks with ECHO Housing Coordinator, Savannah Wood and Navy veteran, David Allega about veterans who are struggling to find housing and employment.
Brad Byrd: Welcome to in-depth. Consider this: You serve your country and receive an honorable discharge. What do you come home to? Tonight, we look at how a local housing support agency is giving our veterans who are struggling, a fighting chance. Joining me tonight are David Allega. He is a U.S. Navy veteran of five years. And Savannah Wood an Army verteran and coordinator at ECHO Housing Corporation. David, first you told me you were struggling with alcohol addiction most of your life. How low did you go before ECHO came into the picture?
David Allega: As low as a person could possibly go. I was facing homelessness. I was very lucky and fortunate that family members allowed me to stay with them until I could try to get back on my feet.
Brad Byrd: And Savannah, you’re a coordinator with ECHO, you coordinate the homeless veteran reintegration program and tell me how it worked with David to make a difference.
Savannah Wood: So, ECHO housing’s veteran reintegration program – there’s two parts: there’s employment, then there’s housing. So, for employment we have any number of vets homeless come to us seeking a better paying job or any kind of employment whatsoever. So, what we do as a team – we kind of band together and offer job search assistance, application assistance, resume development and interviewing, then we work directly with the employers. So, if we have a vet come in and say this is my background and these are my skills, then we try to place them directly with an employer and advocate for them to get hired. And then we have the housing component where we work with volunteers of American the VA very closely. And we also have the Gresham House at our disposal.
Brad Byrd: Yea, tell me about the Gresham House. That’s a special unique place, right here in Evansville.
Savannah Wood: It is. It’s transitional housing. We have six beds at our disposal, emergency placement, or for them to transition where they can save their wages and then kind of have something for them to go to until they get their own permanent housing.
Brad Byrd: And David you’re now working as a heating and air conditioning expert, I guess, how did you get into that and how did ECHO play a role in that?
David Allega: Well, ECHO played a role – I was introduced to the program the day that I signed up for the VA. And they helped me along as far as finding employment, they helped me set up a resume, they led me in the right direction as far as finding work.
Brad Byrd: And Savannah, the number of people who have been helped in this program, the number of veterans.
Savannah Wood: Since ECHO received a grant in the summer of 2017, we’ve helped over 160 vets with employment and housing placement.
Brad Byrd: And David, what advice would you give to a vet perhaps who is in the same situation you were in before you turned things around? What would you tell that individual?
David Allega: I would say the biggest thing would be get registered with the VA, if you aren’t already. The VA will get you started. There’s a wonderful program there. I went through counseling at the VA. And then, they’ll be able to lead you to programs such as ECHO program, it’s a wonderful program and they’re there to help. They have hearts of gold.
Brad Byrd: And how serious is the problem for vets who are homeless in our own backyard Savannah?
Savannah Wood: It’s a lot more serious than people consider. Or maybe it doesn’t hit close to home so, it’s typically not a personal thought to them. But a lot of vets in the community have significant barriers to overcome before they can even get employment and housing. Maybe it’s addiction, mental health issues, or maybe they don’t have a support system. We try to be there for them and help them overcome any barriers they may have so, they can get employment and keep it. And then get their own suitable housing.
Brad Byrd: Was there a point in your life where you were just like this is just – this is the way I’m going to be for the rest of my life?
David Allega: Yea.
Brad Byrd: What was the instant things started changing.
David Allega: The moment things turned around after many failed attempts was honestly the day, I was connected to the VA. My counselor there was Nicki and that’s when I knew. And they allowed me to work at the VA. And tried to get my life back in order.
Brad Byrd: Well, Savannah you’ve got quite a history. You were from a military family, and you served in the Army – how many years?
Savannah Wood: Six years active duty and two years reserve.
Brad Byrd: And what got you involved with this program? Why did you want to do it?
Savannah Wood: Well, I was stationed in Ft. Hood – very far from Evansville, which is where I was born and raised. And I guess essentially, I mean I had been on multiple deployments so, I knew that feeling of being alone and so far away from family and then whenever I got out, I worked for the department of the Army for 4 or 5 years. And then I had children, I thought I’m living in Arizona, it’s time to go back to Evansville, Indiana so, they can be close to my parents, my brothers and sisters and their cousins. And then when I came back here, I realized that my military skills, because I was intelligence in the Army, doesn’t’ translate the way I thought it would here in Evansville so, I struggled and if it wasn’t for my support system, my parents, my brothers and sisters, I could have been in a similar situation as the vets we provide support to. So, I tried to be a support network for the vets in the program because a lot of them don’t have a support system.
Brad Byrd: David, are there no worries now? How do you feel?
David Allega: I’m stronger. There’s always a worry, there’s always a chance of that fear. But I’m stronger now with the right program and the right support system.
Brad Byrd: Well, I’ve got a Navy and an Army veteran sitting on the same platform here and I feel very honored to talk to both of you. And thank you so much tonight. Savannah Wood, with ECHO, and David Allega, a Navy vet, who turned his life around. Thank you so much for being here tonight.
Brad Byrd: Real quick before we go, that fundraising event coming up in August.
Savannah Wood: Yes, The JD Sheth Foundation is hosting a fundraiser for both my program and Lucas Place August 3rd from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Proceeds go entirely to the Gresham House, which is entirely donor funded for vets who reside there.
Brad Byrd: Ok and you can get more information on the ECHO site. Ok, thank you so much, I did not want to leave that out.
(This story was originally published on July 18, 2019)