By Christina Calloway
The number of homeless veterans in the area alarms Tommy Knight and Lori Brunsen, two community leaders who work with veterans.
The two dedicate time daily to help veterans, but when they were told by a New Mexico Workforce Solutions official that more than 70 area homeless veterans visited the Clovis Veterans’ Service Office within a five-month period, it motivated them to take action.
Knight, who is the AMVETS Post 14 commander in Clovis, reached out to area organizations, such as United Way of Eastern New Mexico, La Casa and the Salvation Army, to start a project to house these veterans.
“It just stunned us. We decided it was time to do it,” Knight said.
The plan is to create a shelter, which would be called the Freedom Inn, that would provide temporary housing and support for veterans, but Knight knows this isn’t a project that will be completed overnight.
He’s already met with several representatives of area nonprofits and is looking into buying a property for the project. He’s also looking for grant writers. He hopes to make this a community effort and is welcoming anyone who wants to help with the Freedom Inn to attend the monthly meetings at the Clovis Workforce Solutions office.
Brunsen is the advisor of the revived Student Veterans Organization at Eastern New Mexico University and has known a student vet or two to be homeless. It’s a cause that speaks to her and she plans to get her students involved as much as she can.
“I think it’s really needed, I think the number of homeless veterans out there is a crazy statistic,” Brunsen said. “ I know student veterans that were homeless, which is a pretty sad situation.”
Brunsen said she plans to do her part with her students at ENMU through outreach and informing veterans, who want to get an education, of what their options are.
“I don’t think they realize they can get into school with the G.I. Bill, which can pay for housing,” she said.
Brunsen said the SVO will also try to start a food bank on campus this semester because hunger is another issue veterans face when they’re low-income.
“When their money is delayed, they’re not eating,” said Brunsen based on what she’s seen from experience in working with student veterans.
Knight said the Freedom Inn will go beyond just giving veterans a place to stay. He wants veterans to have access to mental health resources and job opportunities.
“What we want is some place that veterans know, this is a place to go,” Knight said. “We’re looking for something more long-term to help them get on their feet.”