Groups offer help to Westmoreland veterans who fall on hard times
Terrence Stubbs has been settling in at his new apartment in South Greensburg for about two weeks.
The former Green Beret counts himself lucky to have found one that will accept his four cats — and fortunate to have connected with nonprofit Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, which covered his first month's rent and helped him find a source of affordable furnishings.
“They go out of their way to help veterans find a place to live,” Stubbs said of the group, noting its Greensburg-based case management specialist, Lisa Carey, “drove me around a few places. They have all kinds of things available for you.”
Stubbs, 58, learned about Family Services' assistance for veterans who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless while in a special veterans' unit at the state prison in Pittsburgh, where he recently completed a four-year term for aggravated assault with a vehicle.
“When I got out of prison, all my family were down south in Nashville,” said Stubbs, who grew up in Manor and Hempfield. “I only had one friend up here, so I was sort of crashing on his couch.”
After about two months, when he moved on to his own place, Carey connected him with Christian Layman. The Greensburg thrift store has a program specifically for eligible veterans, providing them a bed, $50 worth of small appliances and $200 in store credit.
“It is a housing-first model,” Carey said of her group's federally funded outreach to eligible veterans in need of shelter. “Let's house them first, and from there we start branching out to community services” — connecting veterans with assistance for utility bills and job-hunting, budgeting and computer skills.
Carey has a mission of helping veterans bridge barriers to self-sufficiency. She cited substance abuse, a mental health diagnosis and incarceration among the barriers that can lead former service members to a housing crisis.
Stubbs has lived with the latter two. He receives Social Security benefits because of a diagnosed bipolar condition, he said, and he believes his ill-advised decision to stop taking medication for it contributed to the situation that resulted in his prison term.
Since that wakeup call, he said, he's maintained a dosing schedule to even out his mood swings.
Now that he has a place to call home, Stubbs says he wants to supplement his income with a part-time job and connect with others who share the Native American belief system he follows. “If you don't belong to some kind of faith community, you're missing out on life,” he said.
He would like to pay forward the assistance he's received by helping other veterans in need.
“I was really lucky,” he said. “I know there's guys who are homeless getting out of jail or just regular street guys that need support. I'll go see what I can do — even if somebody just needs someone to talk to or a place to crash for the night.”
Divorce is another factor that can lead to a housing need for a veteran. Tereasa Baughman, 48, discovered that in December as she separated from her spouse and began to build a new life with her daughter, Sabrina Skye, 9. Family Services helped her with the $1,000 deposit for her apartment in Trafford and linked her to the Greensburg thrift store, which provided a washer and dryer.
“She was the light at the end of my tunnel,” Baughman said of Carey. “She made it possible for me to be on my own.”
Baughman, who served as a chaplain's administrative assistant with the Air Force from 1986 to 1990, also struggles with impaired cognitive ability, the result of a 2007 stroke.
“I know what I want to say; it just takes a few seconds to get it out,” she said. “I constantly lose stuff. It will take me a day to wash a sink full of dishes.”
With guidance from Carey, Baughman said she's found a new doctor at the Veterans Affairs clinic in Greensburg and new health coverage for her daughter. One of her goals is to start putting away savings.
With her Social Security disability income, she said, making ends meet will be “tight, but it's doable.
“I would like to be able to work eventually, but I just don't know what kind of work I can do. I can't drive. I don't have a car.”
Both Family Services and Massachusetts-based nonprofit Soldier On can assist eligible veterans with transportation to medical appointments or other destinations.
Soldier On has a Western Pennsylvania outreach, funded through a federal grant. It helped 49 homeless veterans and 79 who were at risk of homelessness in Westmoreland County from 2013 through 2015.
“In more rural areas, veterans don't have access to transportation, so we're able to go out and meet with them,” said Emily Goodwin, a Soldier On representative who lives in Level Green.
Soldier On staff fields veterans' housing questions 10 a.m.-1 p.m. the first Friday of each month in Lower Burrell's city hall.
Goodwin said Soldier On coordinates its efforts with those of other organizations so each veteran is matched with needed resources.
“We are constantly communicating,” she said. “There's a lot of collaboration.”