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The Veterans Group, located at 32nd and Baring streets, is an organization that provides help to former soldiers dealing with homelessness in Philadelphia. The goal of the program is to give them place to live and the necessary tools to transition into productive members of society.
“We help the guys coming from divorces or whatever their situation may be, to help them have a stable place and a safe environment while they transition,” said Matt Dunphy, the director of the program. From the administrative office located in the basement of the building, Dunphy, 42, keeps the program running smoothly and handles any issues the veterans have. Many of them struggle, or have struggled, with substance abuse, mental illnesses and dysfunctional families.
Philadelphia’s problem with homeless veterans is miniscule compared to national statistics. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are an estimated 107,000 homeless veterans, nearly half of whom served in Vietnam. Additionally, approximately 56 percent of homeless veterans are African American or Latino.
“It’s a major problem,” said Dunphy. “There’s been a big push in Washington to end homelessness over the next five or six years.”
Located in an old refurbished mansion erected in the 19th century, the Veterans Group is home to 41 residents but has the capacity to house 48. Dunphy said that there is still work to be done and more beds to add before the building can comfortably accommodate more people.
“We’re trying to make room for 48,” Dunphy said, “but we don’t want to be like sardines in here.”
The accommodations include dormitory-style and semi-private bedrooms. The veterans enjoy shared TV lounges, a library, games and other amenities to help them feel at home while they get back on their feet. The Veterans Group also works with other organizations to improve the quality of the building through painting and other renovations. Cooperation with local stores helps provide food and other necessities. Although there is a small amount of outside funding, the program is mostly maintained by the rent paid by the veterans, who are charged a reasonable and affordable amount.
Sam Hampton, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran, has lived at the Veterans Group for about two years. He served in the Marine Corps from 1968 to 1970 and has since struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. His therapist at Veterans Affairs referred him to the Veterans Group when he found himself homeless, and the program has helped him deal with his illness and get his life back together.
“I’m almost getting ready to leave here,” he said. “It helped me get my mind and things back on track.”
For Hampton, dealing with life after war has been a struggle over the years. He was shot in the head with a .50 caliber bullet in 1969 but the helmet he was wearing prevented severe injury. The impact of the bullet caused him to momentarily think he was dead. The May 6, 1969 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer featured a photo of Hampton holding the helmet that saved his life. Although the memory is a painful one, he kept a photocopy of the newspaper photo to remind himself how lucky he is to be alive.
“I thank God for being alive and being here to try and help other people,” he said.
Contributing factors to homelessness among veterans are untreated PTSD and substance abuse, which is why Hampton is grateful to be involved in programs that provide help and keep him active and grounded. Although homelessness is common among veterans, he believes it’s important for people to help themselves by taking advantage of opportunities like those at the Veterans Group.
“This is a good place for somebody who wants something,” he said. “You can take a horse somewhere to drink water, but if he doesn’t want to drink the water he ain’t going to drink it. If someone doesn’t want something, well, I rest my case.”
For most of the veterans living at the Veterans Group, the purpose of it all is to find a place where they can better themselves and find the skills to move on with their lives. For Hampton, that means living a long life and spending time with his four children and seven grandchildren.
“The future is kind of bright for me because I’m looking forward,” he said. “I know when I leave here I’ll do better things.”
For more information, call 215-222-4379.