Window of Opportunity

A new program aims to help homeless vets get back on their feet

Bruce DeRaad is homeless after serving over 20 years in the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic. A new program to help veterans like him has offered him a path getting a full-time job with the city.

In July, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded Pima County a $236,654 grant for the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program, to connect veterans in need with stable employment. The program just signed up its first five participants.

While in the Air Force, DeRaad was stationed at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. After retiring and moving to Mississippi, he worked for his city's water and sewer department. He became homeless a year-and-a-half ago because of a drinking problem. And earlier this year, he did a four-month rehab. But still homeless, he hopped a Greyhound bus to visit a friend in Tucson. He heard about the program and saw a chance to change his life.

The Kino Veterans' Workforce Center, running the program, is helping applicants get connected to jobs of their choice, with a goal wage of at least $12.50 an hour. The Kino Vets' Center will pay for job training and provide career counseling, resume preparation and job-related expenses like uniforms, tools or eyeglasses.

"Let's say somebody comes in here and says, 'I want to be a truck driver. I need a CDL.' We'll pay for that training," said David Balderrama, the program coordinator. "Let say they have a job offer and they need tools for that position. We'll get the tools, depending on how much it is and what they need."

DeRaad is doing a two-week class at the Kino Vet's Center where he's getting help to build a résumé, look for jobs, set up interviews, practice interviewing and getting the right clothes for an interview.

"So in two weeks, I'll be looking at applying with the city," he said.

The program can also reimburse an employer up to 50 percent of wages paid during a training period. There's $1,300 to $1,400 available to spend on each veteran, and the Pima County One Stop Career Center will pitch in additional money if needed, though Balderrama would not specify how much.

The Kino Vets' Center is working with the Sullivan Jackson Employment Center, the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, Old Pueblo Community Services, Salvation Army, American Red Cross and Primavera Foundation to identify homeless veterans who would benefit from the program and provide them with job training and other resources, like shelter.

Sullivan Jackson is an important partner in providing job training. They have additional grants that can go toward training costs, and they know what jobs are in demand, said Michael Gates, a program coordinator.

They help homeless veterans get into job-training programs at Pima Community College and vocational-training schools. A few in-demand jobs that don't require lengthy training are truck driving, pest control, certified nurse assistant and medical assistant.

If the county enrolls 100 veterans into the program within a year, they can renew the grant every year for three additional years. The grant also requires that at least 70 percent of participants find stable full-time employment.

DeRaad is staying at a local shelter and starting to vision his potential. He's soft spoken and thoughtful—a smart guy who went through hard times.

"I could possibly end up doing my old job, working on C-130 aircrafts," he said. He credits Balderrama and the program as being pivotal in bettering his life. ■

To find out more about the program, contact David Balderrama at the Kino Veterans' Workforce Center, 2801 E. Ajo Way, 724- 2609,