Jeffery J. Hanson is being recognized as a Champion of Change for his dedication to service and his continued support for efforts to end homelessness, boost employment and treat mental health disparities for fellow veterans.
I have always been 'service-minded' - a wonderful gift received from my parents and one that has grown with me throughout life. Community service, civic mindedness and engaging veterans that have honorably served and sacrificed has been a long-time calling which began in earnest during January 1990. Upon separating from active duty in the USMC in December 1989 to attend the University of South Carolina as a full-time student, I was introduced to veterans' homelessness through VA's Student Work Study Program where I worked twenty hours a week on behalf of homeless veterans to help them secure food, travel, shelter and life's basic needs. This was an eye-opening experience and one that always left me asking the question - how does one, who sacrifices so much and serves their country with honor and respect, find themselves is such a helpless and hopeless state?
In part, I found answers to the question while serving in the South Carolina Air National Guard and partnering with one of the greatest F-16 Fighter Pilots I know. We often stood on the active flight line, in the middle of the Saudi Arabian Desert, exchanging stories and life experiences and agreed that when we returned home, we would find some way to engage struggling veterans that had become homeless or who had otherwise fallen down. Upon our return, we engaged the leadership and support of two Vietnam Veterans who each, in their own way, had fallen down and had struggled with recovery - on and off - for years. The four of us, two Vietnam Veterans and two Desert Shield/Storm Veterans, co-founded and formed Palmetto State Base Camp, (PSBC)Inc. - a non-profit organization, incorporated in 1992, to provide transitional residential housing for homeless veterans supported by a program designed to return veterans to independent living and self-sufficiency.
Later, as PSBC learned about the VA's Homeless Veterans Grant & Per Diem Program, it recognized that this work could not be done alone and as a very young, inexperienced non-profit, PSBC needed the expertise, leadership and organizational stability of the Alston Wilkes Society (AWS) - a community-based non-profit, founded in 1962, that extends a helping hand to those who are most at-risk and helps rebuild their lives through rehabilitation and prevention services. AWS was founded to provide services to adults who were being released from federal correctional facilities and has grown to increase services to include homeless veterans, at-risk families and disadvantaged and troubled youth. Today, our partnership stands in service for homeless veterans in South Carolina and the AWS is the largest statewide agency of its kind providing direct services to those in need.
PSBC is also a recognized, and duly registered, Community Housing Development Organization, or CHDO. As such, PSBC currently owns seven single family homes where pairs of veterans continue their march to self-sufficiency and independent living. Veterans who participate and engage in the group home experience at the Alston Wilkes Veterans Home can ascend and continue their recovery to independent living by choosing to live in one of the CHDO units. This component of the recovery and stabilization process for homeless veterans is key to long-term success in that it provides an opportunity for veterans to "stand up" all the way and continue on with productive and hopeful lives. Several previously homeless veterans have returned over the years to give back, including today's veterans program director who is responsible for running the day-to-day activities associated with all homeless veterans activities and programs.
Today, PSBC provides transitional housing in one form or the other to more than fifty homeless veterans and provides them a safe, constructive environment where they can engage, make the right decisions and choices, and work to rebuild their lives. I ask your prayers in remembering W. Ray Owens and Wallace B. Miles, PSBC Co-founders and Vietnam Veterans - DECEASED and who continue their watchful eye in spirit calling us all to action.
Jeff Hanson continues to serve at Palmetto State Base Camp's President and has served several years as a board member to the Alston Wilkes Society's Board of Directorsin Columbia, South Carolina.