Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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Veterans matter

Ken Leslie used common sense and street smarts to create a national model for helping homeless veterans


Toledo homeless advocate Ken Leslie is a big-picture guy with an even bigger heart. He understands that meeting the needs of homeless people takes teamwork among social service agencies, nonprofits, and private businesses.

Mr. Leslie knows that alleviating homelessness means not only providing housing, but also addressing related issues such as addiction, mental illness, and unemployment. His ability to unite people in a common cause makes him an effective advocate for Toledo’s most vulnerable residents.

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Last week, his efforts were recognized by the White House. He, Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins, and community and municipal leaders from 80 cities attended First Lady Michelle Obama’s summit aimed at ending homelessness among those who served in the military. Veterans make up an estimated 25 percent of adult homeless Americans, although they account for only 11 percent of the nation’s adult population.

Mrs. Obama and officials of the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs announced the Mayors’ Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Mayors across the country, including Mr. Collins, committed to ending homelessness among veterans by 2015, using partnerships of government and the private sector.

Such efforts will include programs that remove barriers to getting veterans permanently housed quickly. That’s exactly what 1Matters, an organization Mr. Leslie founded in 1990, has done.

Recently, Mr. Leslie expanded his nonprofit to include a division called Veterans Matter. It operates in six states, including Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, creating partnerships with social service agencies, private donors, and musicians. John Mellencamp and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top are among the well-known recording artists who have helped the organization raise money and awareness.

One of Mr. Leslie’s programs helps veterans get housing by approving security deposits in minutes through an online process. Typically, veterans must wait 60 days for such approval.

Over the past 18 months, the program has helped 300 veterans in six states. Mr. Leslie praised the Toledo Community Foundation’s ProMedica advocacy fund and the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission for their support.

Once homeless himself, Mr. Leslie struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and understands real-world problems. Out-of-touch bureaucrats probably didn’t consider that housing vouchers aren’t much good without a security deposit that can equal two months’ rent. Mr. Leslie is meeting with community leaders around the country to determine where to expand the program.

Nearly 1,000 people in Toledo are homeless at any time; 3,000 are homeless at some time during the year, including hundreds of veterans. Yet unlike Detroit, where most of the 20,000 homeless people live outside shelters — under bridges, in parks, in vacant buildings — Toledo has few people living on the street.

Local nonprofits and public-sector agencies that serve homeless people work well together, Mr. Leslie said. “Toledo is getting national attention because we collaborate,” he told The Blade’s editorial page.

Toledo and its local shelters, despite budget cuts, have done an outstanding job of meeting the needs of homeless people. They provide — except possibly in cases of domestic violence — enough shelter beds to meet local needs.

Dedicated, innovative advocates such as Mr. Leslie should continue to make Toledo a model for compassion and competence in serving homeless people.

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