PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — According to data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, an estimated 1,300 unsheltered veterans sleep on Oregon’s streets each night.
Portland-based nonprofit Fort Kennedy is fighting to curb those statistics by servicing local men and women who served our country and providing essential resources to veterans facing homelessness and other challenges.
Having served 22 years in the Army, Fort Kennedy Executive Director Tina Kennedy told KOIN 6 News she was motivated to open the Southeast day center after witnessing the challenges of transitioning out of the service during her own retirement.
“When I came home as a retired first sergeant, I was looking for different services to help me with my benefits and it was very hard to find,” Kennedy recalled. “So I said, ‘If I’m having problems, probably my other vets are too!’ And that’s what inspired me to bring the services together, and help the vets find those services and get what they’re due.”
The organization partners with local agencies to help connect veterans and their families to benefits, housing, pet care, and more.
“We offer showers, food, clothing, we help them get into housing, we help them with their cell phone bill, bus passes and stuff like that,” said Kennedy. “Anything they need we can help them with here.”
According to Kennedy, the program helps support an average of 20 to 45 people each day.
Mike Sanford, a veteran, said the organization and the people who run it have helped him find normalcy.
“I’m a veteran who comes here because I’m two steps above homeless at this point,” Sanford explained. “I started coming here because I have no way to get a hold of things that cost money – how do you get toilet paper when you’re homeless? Everyone here has value – even if it’s not economic.”
Sanford told KOIN 6 News the nonprofit has helped him also find a way to be himself.
“Just the time that I’ve spent with the people here has been more effective than most of the case managers I’ve had, and it’s a lot less broken,” he said.
“Tina came out of the military much better off than I was, but she still went through the exact same process,” Sanford said. “There’s a demilitarization of the brain that has to take place and I am still affected by what happened to me. It’s nice to have a place where I can just be Mike Sanford, as opposed to Private Sanford.”
As a veteran herself, Kennedy believes that she is able to successfully service the veterans in her community because she understands what they’ve been through.
“Some of the problems are the same when we talk about homelessness and other issues but veterans are very different,” stated Kennedy. “They have very distinct needs which require different help. I think some of the civilian services don’t work as well.”
Kennedy cites PTSD, a lack of familial support, and the difficult transition out of structured service life as some of the many reasons our veterans find themself in need of support.
“Vets helping vets is our main focus and it’s what really helps these veterans,” Kennedy explained. “They come in and they feel like they can open to me in a way that they might not for someone else. It’s that bond we have as veterans -that shared experience which is so important.”
The Hawaiian-themed event has a $25 cover charge and is set to feature the Sons of Aloha Band, prizes, and food, with all proceeds going towards the organization.
Additionally, Thursday marks the beginning of Fort Kennedy’s annual “Box or Socks Drive’ to gather new men’s underwear for homeless veterans.
Donations can be made at the Salty Rhino in West Linn, the Portland Sidelines Restaurant and Sports Bar, the Harley Davison stores at the Gladstone or Salem location, the Mulino Horseshoe Bar & Grill, the Coat of Arms Firearms store in Keizer, and all Wichita Pub locations.