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Group celebrates housing over 2,000 veterans

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    Shawn Clark, left, with Veterans Matter, hugs Christina Kodjiku, right, social worker with HUD, during a press conference at Commons at Garden Lake on March 12, 2018.

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    Ken Leslie, with Veterans Matter, announces that it has now housed more than 2,000 veterans in 18 states nationwide, with over 250 of those local to the Toledo Area.

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    Veteran David Blackshear applauds during a press conference at Commons at Garden Lake on March 12, 2018.

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    Shawn Clark, center, with Veterans Matter, applauds during a press conference at Commons at Garden Lake on March 12, 2018.

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    Jason Brown, Lucas County Veterans Services, speaks during a press conference at Commons at Garden Lake on March 12, 2018.

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    Ken Leslie, with Veterans Matter, speaks during a press conference at Commons at Garden Lake on March 12, 2018.

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Nobody working to house homeless veterans takes too much time to congratulate themselves on their successes. But Ken Leslie, homeless advocate and founder of 1Matters and its military veteran-focused Veterans Matter splinter group, took some time Monday morning to recognize more than 2,000 homeless veterans who had been housed with the assistance of Veterans Matter since 2012. 

“We celebrate in the office by giving each other high fives,” Mr. Leslie said, “and then got back to work because there’s 39,000 more veterans that need our help.”

The organization, founded in 2012, provides first month’s rent and a security deposit for homeless veterans already on their way toward permanent housing through existing Veterans Affairs programs. According to the real-time number published on the organization’s website, 2,008 veterans have been housed in 18 states through the organization’s efforts. 

WATCH: Ken Leslie on Veterans Matter

“It’s an incredible community collaboration,” Mr. Leslie said. “What we chose to do was to work with the V.A. to consciously find the veterans that needed us most.”

Veterans are being moved from the streets to a lease with the assistance of a Section 8 voucher, which keeps rent at 30 percent of an individual’s income. But it doesn’t provide the upfront money necessary to get a lease signed and a homeless person moved in, which is where Mr. Leslie steps into the picture. 

“Nationally, before Veterans Matter started, it took us about 161 days to get veterans from a street to a lease,” Shawn Dowling, the V.A.’s health care for homeless veterans coordinator in Ann Arbor, said. “Today [in northwest Ohio], we are proud to say, with the help of Veterans Matter, it only takes us 31 days.”

David Blackshear was one of those veterans. He’s lived at the Commons at Garden Lake since the facility opened in October, 2015. A retired specialist who served two years in the U.S. Army, Mr. Blackshear, 66, was briefly homeless after retiring and relocating to Toledo. 

“I didn’t have anywhere to stay,” he said. “At that time I didn’t have any income.”

He worked with veterans groups like Mr. Leslie’s, along with the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission, to find a home after about a week of homelessness. 

Another veteran living at the Commons, retired Marine Ramon Martinez, expressed his gratitude for the assistance. 

“I got all the help I really needed. I just needed to do it,” he said. 

Contact Zack Lemon at zlemon@theblade.com419-724-6282 or on Twitter @zack_lemon.

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