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In an Era Where Veterans Are Left Behind, Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program Works To Take Them In

The state of Georgia ranks third (out of 50) for the largest number of homeless veterans in the Balance of State homeless areas registry. This places it only behind Hawaii and Oregon for the highest number of unsheltered veterans, with a 63.1% rate of unsheltered vs. sheltered homeless veterans in the Balance of State Continuum of Care.

The Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program (CCHV) is working to help as many of those veterans as it possibly can. Founded by a West Point grad, this program launched on Veterans Day 2014 in response to a program — Opening Doors — that the VA and Barack Obama’s administration launched in 2010.

“[To me], the [Opening Doors] program just wasn’t very effective and didn’t do anything long term,” Jim Lindenmayer, founder and executive director of the Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program, said. “So I spent six months researching the homeless issues here in our county, and I was looking for a retirement project where I could make a difference in people’s lives, so launching this organization just made sense. There are over 15,000 veterans in our county, and we’re an hour away from Atlanta and an hour away from Tennessee, so it’s fairly rural.”

Lindenmayer also serves as a member on the Balance of State Homeless Committee for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and is a member of the American Legion, so the CCHV is a 501(c)(19) nonprofit that is tied to the legion and is run completely by volunteers.

“We provide a staff function, so CCHV works with about 10 local groups, and we don’t interfere or compete with their work; instead, we dovetail into what they do and all work well together,” Lindenmayer explained. “In addition to the American Legion [Posts 45 and 316], we work with VFW Post 5262, Cherokee Veteran Community VA Vet Center, the Soleil Veterans Club, Laurel Canyon Veterans Club, and MCL Detachment 1311.”

 

Opening Doors
Photo courtesy of the Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program.

 

Lindenmayer and his volunteers work to ensure all the funding they receive stays within the county, from a contract with Motel 6 to house homeless veterans to an eight-year partnership with Kimberly-Clark. Since their time in that partnership as a Kimberly-Clark SALUTE distribution point, they’ve moved more than half a million dollars worth of product, divvying up everything from diapers and tissues to wipes and other hygiene products between the National Guard, American Legion, and other veteran programs in the area.

 

Opening Doors
Photo courtesy of the Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program.

 

The CCHV works to bring in homeless veterans and cover everything from a records review with the VA and Social Security, allowing them to determine where medical and other benefits are available, as well as offering a job scholarship program, a car program, and short-term and long-term housing. CCHV also runs a coat drive (donating more than 3,500 coats in 2021), an “adopt a veteran” holiday program, and a Veteran Home Repair program and coordinates a variety of community support partnerships that help to cover rent and utility assistance, clothing/food/furniture assists, and community medial services. Its long-term housing project, which was slowed by COVID-19, is now back on track, with architecture plans in review so that CCHV can develop its shelter.

Currently, CCHV is also waiting to hear back from the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant. If won, the grant would allow the organization to build a local veterans' mental health program with a focus on suicide prevention.

 

Opening Doors
Photo courtesy of the Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program.

 

“There are no homeless shelters for veterans north of downtown Atlanta, and it often takes 12 to 14 weeks to get someone placed there,” Lindenmayer explained. “We’re currently working with the VA on how to streamline that process. It’s not just housing, it’s a matter of getting the veteran food, gas cards, and connected with a program to help them get a vehicle.”

The vehicle program offered by CCHV was started four years ago, and so far, it has received 40 vehicles to regift to veterans. CCHV works locally to repair the car — it must be in working shape to be an acceptable donation — then retitles it and “sells” it to a veteran who falls into at least one of three categories: a female veteran with kids, a veteran 70% service-disabled, or a veteran who’s formerly homeless and in need of a vehicle in order to land a better-paying job.

 

Opening Doors
Photo courtesy of the Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program.

 

“In the past, BRCC has donated to CCHV through our annual homeless veterans golf outing,” Lindenmayer said. “Now that the Woodstock outpost is up and running, we would love to do more with that location. I really want to see CCHV working and partnering with as many veteran-owned businesses as possible.”

The annual Charity Homeless Veterans Golf Outing is in its eighth year, with 100% of the proceeds going to support CCHV’s programs and the entirety of the money raised staying in Cherokee County. CCHV is also participating in a competitive barbecue event (with more than $12,000 in prizes), and the proceeds will also go back into its programs.

 

Opening Doors

Photo courtesy of the Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program.

 

“In addition to the housing and physical services CCHV offers, we also spend a lot of time on mental health,” Lindenmayer said. “Mental health programming is also a big part of what we do, in a traditional sense and through things like our Veteran Fly Fishing Program. We’ve been doing this for the last four years, twice a year. It's a great way to get vets out of the house, and it’s completely free. Thanks to some local partners, time and equipment get donated, and we have a set of free classes that we can offer to 20 participants per session.”

 

   

Video courtesy of the Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program via Facebook.

 

“Our goal is to get these veterans back into society and back into life, not relying on a program for the rest of their lives,” Lindenmayer explained. “We keep it high-touch, high-feel, and I like to treat them just like they were treated in the military, so they know exactly what’s expected of them. We’ve been able to help about 125 veterans a year. This is more hands-on than a Stand Down Event, which, to me, is more of a false-hope kind of program.”

“Stand Down are these one- or two-day events where a bunch of government agencies and nonprofits get together and offer medical services, benefits screenings, and food distribution, and in our case, they host them for homeless veterans,” Lindenmayer continued. “While the concept is laudable, and often needed, after those two days, all of those veterans are back on the streets. Years ago, when we started this program, I researched a number of these events, and it’s my goal to not support that kind of program. Our intake process alone takes over 96 hours, and that may not even be enough.”

 

Opening Doors
Photo courtesy of the Cherokee County Homeless Vets Program.

 

“We don’t do charity; we just ask them to pay it forward,” Lindenmayer said. 

To learn more about CCHV programs or to support them, head to the CCHV website or Facebook page