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Retired gunnery sergeant provides supportive services for veteran families through Family Endeavors

Retired from the military himself, Ken Becker now works to connect supportive services for veteran families with Family Endeavors.

|March 2, 2017|
|The Globe|

To believe in people’s capacity to grow, to heal, to change, to succeed and to affect others around them is the motto Ken Becker lives by as the outreach and intake specialist of supportive services for veteran families with Family Endeavors.

Becker, retired from the Marine Corps in December 2007 as a motor transport maintenance chief after 20 years of service. The former gunnery sergeant grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina and often reminisces about his childhood, growing up in a military community.

One of Becker’s favorite memories growing up as a military child was receiving tapes with stories from his dad, who would send them to him and his brother so they could hear his voice.

“My father retired from the Army and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. But I chose the Marines for the added challenge,” said Becker. “I enjoyed growing up in the military and the stability of it. Even if my dad was deployed we still had the military community to lean on,” said Becker. “I wanted my children to have that so that was also one of the reasons why I joined.”

Currently, Becker is responsible for conducting the initial eligibility screening of veterans who need assistance.

“I conduct outreach and networking activities in the community; such as seeking out and working with homeless veterans in shelters and in tent cities,” said Becker. “If they are eligible and wish to receive our help, I enroll them in the program. They are then assigned to a case manager who works with them while they are in the program. During their time in the program, veterans are assisted finding housing, employment, filing for benefits, registering for school, or whatever their goals might be.”

For Becker one of the most rewarding aspects of his job is running into veterans who they have helped get back on their feet. “Seeing the transformation is very fulfilling,” said Becker.

Becker credits the Marine Corps for his discipline and initiative, and chose Jacksonville to retire because this is where both of his children were born.

“We decided to stay because this is our home. I spent most of my active-duty time stationed at Camp Lejeune. This town is where my two children were born and raised,” said Becker. “My wife stayed here through my deployments and works here.”

His advice for young service members is to have a solid plan to fall back on and to set tangible goals.

“The most important step is making a plan. If you want something, find out the steps of how to get there and become something you can be proud of,” said Becker.

Family Endeavors is a national non-profit agency that provides services and practical solutions for families who have been torn by poverty and need crisis intervention.

The Veteran Services program offers homelessness prevention and stabilization services to veterans and their families. Services are provided to veteran families with very low income, veterans facing eviction and veterans who are currently homeless.


Our Jacksonville, North Carolina can be reached at (910) 459-4320.
Learn more about the services for Veteran families and counties served in North Carolina.

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Annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count Takes Place in North Carolina

Family Endeavors staff in North Carolina participate in the Point-In-Time homeless count, part of a national effort for communities across the nation to obtain a 24-hour snapshot of homelessness.

|Jan. 25, 2017|

|Fayetteville Observer|

The community services manager for Cumberland County Community Development Department anticipates an increase in the area’s homeless population from this year’s Point-In-Time count.

“Due to Hurricane Matthew, there were many people who lost their homes. You have that number in addition to the existing homeless population,” the Community Development’s Dee Taylor said Wednesday. “Many of these are probably staying in hotels still. This point-in-time does not give us a complete picture of the homeless in Cumberland County. It just gives us a snapshot.”

A year ago, 515 people were counted as homeless in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

The annual Point-In-Time homeless count got underway at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning. Regarded as “a 24-hour snapshot of homelessness” in the community, it’s being conducted through 6a.m. today.

Sixty-seven-year-old George Atkins, who delivered the morning prayer before the homeless were served breakfast at Operation Insasmuch, says this rudimentary count of the street people population in the area provides a service.

” ‘Cause I was homeless myself,” he said from his table. “You know someone has their ears open, anyway.”

The Point-In-Time count, typically held within the last 10 days of January, is part of a national effort for communities across the nation, Taylor said.

Just before noon, Michelle Blanding, the program director for Family Endeavors, reported that the count “was going pretty well.” That nonprofit organization provides assistance to low-income veterans and their families in the Fayetteville area.

In Blanding’s case, the homeless individuals who already had been approached for information for the Point-In-Time count surveys had been friendly, she said. “They did it last year. They’re very open,” she added. “They do understand the need, and they do ask you why?”

The count is federally mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, especially for those agencies receiving assistance from the McKinney-Vento homeless program.

The overall number is determined through both a street count, with volunteers canvassing the streets, under bridges and at soup kitchens, as well as a service count, conducted by agencies that provide emergency shelter, transitional housing or permanent housing to those experiencing homelessness.

For the survey, individuals are being asked, “Where did you sleep on the night of Wednesday, Jan. 25th?”

Volunteers and service providers also use the questionnaires to obtain information on such things as their background, whether they have specific conditions, whether they’re military, and whether they are survivors of domestic violence.

Sue Byrd, the executive director of Operation Insasmuch, said this information on who is being served helps her organization apply for grant money. In some cases, she said, these records can be of help to law enforcement.

Homeless individuals do not have to give their full names: An identifier on the forms asks only for the first two letters of their first and last names.

“Don’t be afraid to talk to them. They’re not here to put you in jail,” executive director Gladys Thompson told more than 35 people waiting in line to eat a hot lunch at the City Rescue Mission.

A 50-year-old homeless woman, on hand at Operation Inasmuch, was among those on board with providing personal information for the surveys. She declined to give her name.

“Even the homeless community keeps up with each other,” she said. “We’re a community. Just as you have the upper class, lower class, middle class, you have the homeless.”

Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at 486-3529 orfutchm@fayobserver.com

For more about Supportive Services for Veterans Families in Fayetteville, call 910-672-6166 or visit our Veterans Services online.

Point in time homeless count 2017 family endeavors
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Family Endeavors to Reopen ‘Jubilee House’ for Female Veterans in North Carolina

Family Endeavors secures ownership of a house in Jacksonville, NC, to serve female veterans.

|ALICIA BANKS|

|September 1, 2016|

Family Endeavors, a national nonprofit organization that now oversees the Jubilee House on Langdon Street, is aiming to reopen the home to female veterans and their families in December.

The organization plans to house up to 14 people at the Jubilee House, which will be overseen by paid staff from its North Carolina regional office in Fayetteville.

The home will be supervised 24 hours – with a case and program manager on site. It will provide a range of services, including education and life skills training in areas such as budgeting, parenting and stress management, said Family Endeavors CEO Travis Pearson.

“We know this program is needed, and it’s a great resource,” he said. “This was an important addition to the Fayetteville community. It’s going to be a lot of fun to get it up and running.”

Family Endeavors, headquartered in San Antonio, operates across five states and also assists families with emergency financial assistance, employment readiness and job placement services.

For now, services will only be for female veterans and families who live in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Pearson said it could expand to other counties in the Cape Fear region as the organization becomes acclimated with the area again.

“Our philosophy is individuals and veterans can access our programs as long as they need it,” Pearson said. “As long as families are engaged, and they’re getting back on their feet, they can stay there as long as they need to.”

Endeavors closed on the Jubilee House and a second home on Enfield Drive on Tuesday. Pearson said the organization plans to sell the Enfield Drive home and use the proceeds for the Jubilee House, which needs repairs such as landscaping, refurbishing and making it accessible to those with disabilities.

“We have started our assessments of the property,” he said.

And with the home’s changing look will come a new name for the house that was once part of Steps & Stages, a nonprofit veterans service organization founded by Barbara Marshall in 2007.

“It’s a fresh start and a new beginning for it,” Pearson said. “And a new name is a way to recognize that.”

Pearson said the new name hasn’t been decided.

It’s been more than six months since the Jubilee House’s interim board ran an advertisement seeking applicants to take over the charity. The move came after Marshall signed over ownership of her charity in 2015.

In July 2012, the North Carolina Secretary of State’s Charitable Solicitation Licensing Division began investigating Steps & Stages after receiving complaints of mismanagement and other concerns, according to state records. The state Attorney General’s Office joined the investigation later.

Jubilee House fell under the organization’s operations.

Officials made requests for documents about the charity’s finances, operations and assets that were also tied to two other homes for veterans. Neither were fully answered, state records show.

The state responded, notifying Marshall that her charity wasn’t operating within the law. That’s when a group of volunteers stepped in and formed the interim board in July 2015.

Throughout the legal battle, Marshall refused to let the operation go. She filed a lawsuit last month seeking $3 million in damages from state and county officials, some interim board members and the American Broadcasting Co.

The home received much fanfare when it was built as part of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in July 2011.

Pearson was optimistic about what Jubilee House can add to his organization, which assists 15,000 people a year – a third of those are veterans.

The regional office in Fayetteville aids roughly 400 veterans annually who also face housing crises such as not being able to pay bills and eviction, Pearson said.

“It’s going to provide another service, the continuum of helping veterans at risk and get them back on their feet,” Pearson said about the Jubilee House. “We’re honored for this opportunity to do this.”

Family Endeavors plans to host an open house and rededication before hopefully opening by year’s end.

Writer Alicia Banks can be reached at banksa@fayobserver.com.
Related Story from August 31, 2016.

Female Veterans Home
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Veteran in North Carolina Recalls Years Spent Homeless

Thomas Lopez reflects on the 13 years he spent homeless before being connected to Family Endeavors.

|AMANDA THAMES|

|August 17, 2016|

Thomas Lopez sacrificed a college education and real-world skills in order to serve his country. But when it was time for his country to offer service in return, Lopez said he came up empty-handed.

Lopez, his wife, four children and his father had moved to Hawaii where he was stationed. While there, his father was hospitalized for multiple sclerosis and Lopez was taking time off to be with him more often than his platoon sergeant liked, he said.

Lopez, now 57, said his sergeant told him to fix the problem or he’d be kicked out. After all, he’d signed his contract and wasn’t spending enough time fulfilling it.

Lopez took an honorable hardship in April 1990 and left the Army as a sergeant, coming back to the continental United States.

It was the start of the end for him, he said.

The Army was all he knew and he felt thrown into society with no education and few skills. He and his wife had two more kids before eventually getting a divorce.

“It was the first major loss in my life,” he said.

He had a lack of income and trouble holding down a job. Depression set in.

One night he found himself sleeping on someone else’s couch and the next he was sleeping under a bridge.

Dangers of living on the streets

Lopez said he spent the next 13 years on the streets, at times digging in garbage cans for food and trying to keep himself safe.

It was a dangerous world, he said.

“You become a target,” he said. “We create an aura of fear . . . People are just mean.”

Unlike most, the homeless population doesn’t file police reports for crimes committed, Lopez said. The only time he had dealings with police officers was when they were forcing him to move his tent.

During hurricanes and major storms, he said the homeless were forgotten.

“I don’t remember anybody coming to look for us,” Lopez said.

Three of his friends died during the 13 years he was homeless. One overdosed, one’s liver was too alcohol-saturated and the third was beaten to death.

But the homeless in Onslow County are not all drunks and drug addicts who want to be on the streets.

While some may choose that life, most of the men and women out there just want help, Lopez said.

“The homeless need to be identified,” he said. “Find the ones who don’t want to be there. If they want help, they need help.”

Finding food

Every morning two questions crossed Lopez’s mind: “How am I going to eat today?” and. “Am I going to eat today?”

It was basic survival he said, pausing. He looked away, red-rimmed eyes brimming with unshed tears.

There was always something in the trash, he said. People throw away a lot of food.

When that failed he sometimes asked people to buy him food. He said he never asked for money, knowing most would assume he wanted drugs or alcohol. He asked for something every person needs for survival.

Some helped him, he said. Others completely ignored him, walking past without a glance.

Some told him to get away from them.

He went to DSS and asked for food stamps, but he said since he didn’t have a job or an address he was denied.

Many days he just chose to go without food, he said. There was always the chance someone would say no or someone would catch him at a trashcan. It was preferable, he said, to do without.

“I wanted to die,” he said. “I couldn’t even get something to eat.”

One day a young Marine found Lopez crying. The Marine touched his shoulder and asked if he was OK.

Lopez said he was hungry.

“I’m not going to starve to death,” Lopez told the Marine. “I’m not going to wait for that.”

He and the Marine sat down to a meal.

Eating with a fellow military member, being treated as a human being again, it got Lopez talking and the Marine told him there was help through the VA. He found a suicide hotline for Lopez and asked him to rethink his life.

Lopez was put in touch with OHVets and Penni Ford, a case manager with Family Endeavors, a woman who is still working to Lopez today.

Helping those who want it

Living in the woods behind a friend’s home where he helped with the lawn and other chores in exchange for a safe place to pitch his tent, Lopez received a free cell phone — a program through SafeLinnk Wireless that gives struggling, low-income Americans free cell phones, voice minutes and text messages — and kept in contact with Ford, who helped him find a home through Section 8 around March.

“I got the call saying, ‘Go sign your lease, you’re in,’” he said. “My homelessness ended.”

He was able to receive 10 percent disability through the VA to get medical care. The process took a few months, but Lopez said he was used to the “hurry up and wait” method.

In the meantime, Ford helped him with clothes, food and basic necessities like a toothbrush, though he said it was a little late on the dental end, pointing to a group of missing teeth on the left side of his mouth.

The best part was being treated like a person again.

“They didn’t degrade me, humiliate me or talk to me in a way that was less than human. I was treated with respect,” Lopez said.

Ford also kept him up-to-date on progress so he knew what was happening. He was still living outside at the time, but said it had been 13 years — a couple more months would be okay.

Homelessness is like “life is attacking you,” he said, whether that’s a person or the elements. There are no permanent shelters from the rain, hail or lightening, no air conditioning in 100 degree weather, no heater when it’s below freezing.

Lopez asked that people think about this when they see a homeless person.

Be kind, he said.

Just treat others as the humans they are.

“Don’t cross the street when you see me, like I have the plague,” he said.

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series looking at homelessness in Onslow County. Jacksonville Daily News
This story also appeared in Stars and Stripes.

Veteran Reflects on Homelessness
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