In the early summer of 2004, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 820 Vice President, Jim Gunn, brought up the plight of homeless veterans at a chapter meeting. Within a short time, an exploratory committee was formed to investigate this problem in Central and Eastern Oregon and to examine what other veterans organizations were doing. We learned that there were successful homeless veterans programs in various parts of the country and that they were being funded by several sources of federal grant money, as well as by local fundraising efforts that included donations from the public, businesses and private foundations and trusts. During this early process, Jim Gunn learned about a program in Redding, California, and a decision was made by Chapter 820 members to go to Redding and look at this program. Chapter 820 President, Rob Bryce, and member Dan Waldrop, visited the Redding program and returned to Bend with lots of ideas and a good grasp of the basic concepts of providing for homeless and poor veterans.
As a result of the trip to Redding, Stu Steinberg, a member of Chapter 820 and now COVO's Chief of Operations, conducted research on the issues of homeless veterans, in general, and how the problem engenders itself in Central and Eastern Oregon. Stu produced a white paper on veterans' homelessness that analyzed both the national and local problem and offered numerous suggestions as to how to address the various issues within the Central and Eastern Oregon communities. The most important thing that Stu's research showed was that it could be estimated that some 1.600 veterans in Central and Eastern Oregon would face homelessness at some time during the next year.
Shortly after Stu completed the white paper, a steering committee was organized to review the information and plot a course for the future. The name, "Central Oregon Veterans Outreach," was chosen for the project and a board of directors was elected. Thereafter, Stu drafted Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws and a Conflict of Interest Policy. These were all approved by the new board and on March 3, 2005, COVO formally came into existence when its' Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Oregon Secretary of State. Several weeks later, COVO received formal notice that they had been registered as a nonprofit charitable organization by the Oregon Department of Justice. In early April 2005, the appropriate papers were sent to the Internal Revenue Service for federal tax exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and in February 2006, we received our federal tax exempt status.
In late March 2005, COVO began to formulate the idea to have a benefit concert in Bend that would raise funds for the various programs and services COVO provides for disadvantaged veterans in Central and Eastern Oregon. Our public relations guru, Rabbine Harpell, contacted the management of the Paul deLay Band and they agreed to come to Bend to do the COVO benefit. The Midtown Rock, Roll & Rink donated their venue and the event took place on June 4, 2005, with local blues band, the Cleveland Street Rhythm Section, as the opening act. In addition to the benefit concert, COVO set out to raise funds from the local business community and private individuals. This process was an outstanding success and between the concert and donations, COVO raised approximately $25,000 during its first year of existence. With frugal management and the assistance of many other local nonprofit social service agencies, COVO has been able to provide a wide variety of services to more than 200 veterans and their families between March 2005 - March 2006.
In August 2005, COVO moved into its first office, located at Bend's Community Center at 1036 NE 5th Street. In exchange for providing the Center with volunteers for the Center's various programs for Central Oregon's disadvantaged population, we have free rent and utilities, as well as access to a variety of office equipment, including the copy and fax services. We expect that within the next few months, COVO will add additional office space at the Center in exchange for a larger volunteer commitment. The current single office will be used solely for benefits claims from the VA, Social Security and other federal, state and local programs. The new office space will become COVO's administrative and outreach offices.
COVO's veterans' benefits claims service is currently assisting more than fifty veterans and their families with various matters pending before the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration. These claims include VA applications for service-connected disability compensation, non-service-connected pension and medical benefits, as well as Social Security claims for disability insurance payments. In addition, we are assisting a number of veterans with correcting their military records and seeing that their official files reflect their combat service and all of the awards and decorations to which they are entitled. In one case, we are assisting a World War II veteran in reconstructing his military personnel files that were partially destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1972. Our clients represent all periods of military service during times of war, as well as during times of peace.
During the months of February - March 2006, COVO's outreach program assisted the Central Oregon Homeless Leadership Council in conducting the "One-Night Homeless Count" required by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for organizations receiving HUD funding to assist homeless and disadvantaged people. Because COVO was familiar with the locations of many homeless "camps," the 2006 count far surpassed any previous attempts to determine the number of homeless individuals in Central Oregon. Organized by COVO's Outreach Coordinator, Jim Gunn, we were able to get reasonably accurate counts of homeless people in remote locations such as Bureau of Land Management sites and at day-labor locations. In turn, the new and far larger number of homeless individuals counted will be translated into more government funding for various Central Oregon programs providing services to these people.
COVO is now beginning its second fund-raising campaign and, again, the Paul deLay Band will do a benefit for COVO on June 16, 2006. In March 2006, we were a successful grant applicant for FEMA funds to feed homeless and poor people in Central Oregon, thanks to our grants specialist, COVO Vice President, Anne Philiben. Jim Gunn, in his role as Outreach Coordinator, will be responsible for seeing that these funds are used primarily for homeless veterans and their families, and secondarily for any homeless person who is hungry. Anne is now in the process of getting COVO set up with HUD as a grant applicant for various homeless programs that HUD funds. In the very near future, we expect to begin applying for grant funds from the VA.
With minimal funding, COVO has been able to provide a hand up to a number of veterans and their families. This has included getting a client into transitional housing for recovering alcoholics, as well as a job; another client was clinically detoxed at a VA hospital and then successfully completed a thirty-day "12-step" program; other clients have been provided with emergency funds for motel rooms, food, travel expenses, clothing and winter camping gear.
COVO has an experienced and diverse Board of Directors and Staff:
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Robert W. Bryce, President-- Rob is an Army Vietnam veteran who was an intelligence agent. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Rob has a BS in molecular biology and biochemistry and a masterâ€™s degree in management. His career spanned all aspects of clinical laboratory science from research and development through laboratory administration. Rob retired in 1999 and has been involved in a number of volunteer activities, including working with Volunteers in Medicine, Habitat for Humanity and Healing Reins Therapeutic Riding Program. Rob is active in the veterans' community and, in addition to his work with COVO, is also the President of Chapter 820, Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc.
Anne N. Philiben, Vice President -- Anne served in the Army as a surgical nurse and a nurse administrator from 1969-1988, when she retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She served in Vietnam. Anne's awards include the Army Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Army Commendation Medal, the Vietnam Campaign and Service Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, the Meritorious Unit Commendation and the Army Service Ribbon. Anne has a BS in Nursing from the Medical College of Georgia and a Masters in Nursing Administration from the University of Washington. She is the Commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 14.
Robert W. Cusick, Treasurer -- Bob served in the Marines from 1967-1979, and the Army
National Guard from 1979-1991, when he retired with 24 years of service. He
served in Vietnam in 1968-1969. Bob holds the Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon,
the Army Achievement Award, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and both the
Presidential and Meritorious Unit Citation. Bob is currently the Quartermaster
for VFW Post 1643 in Bend and also serves as the Post's service officer. In
addition, Bob is the Commander of VFW Oregon District 14.
Kathern R. Ziemer, Secretary -- Kathy served on active duty from 1974-1981 and then in the Army National Guard for fourteen years until she retired as a Staff Sergeant in 1999. During her service, she received two Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Expeditionary Forces Medal and the Army Commendation Medal. Kathy is a member of Chapter 820 VVA and VFW Post 1643. During her service, Kathy served a tour in Germany and made two deployments to Korea.
Richard W. Gehweiler, Director and Media Spokesman -- Rick served in the US Marine Corps in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. His awards include numerous Marine and Navy commendations and citations, and 23 awards of the air medal for flying during combat operations. He has a BA in economics and is a successful real estate broker, builder and contractor and small business owner.
Richard Gorby, Director -- Dick served in the Navy from 1963-1965 and was in Vietnam in 1963-1964. After serving on active duty, Dick spent six years in the Naval Reserve. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. After completing his service, Dick received a BA in graphic arts and photography. He is currently the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) director for Central Oregon. Dick serves on a multitude of community organization boards, including Vietnam Veterans of America, Oregon State Council (President), VVA Chapter 821 (Vice President), Central Oregon Veterans Council, and the Homeless Leadership Council. He is also a member of the La Pine VFW Post and has a regular radio show for veterans, called "Second Sunday," on Bend station, KBND.
Liz Hitt, Director -- Liz is the Executive Director of the Bethlehem Inn, an emergency shelter for homeless people in Central Oregon. She has a BS from Oregon State University and served in the Army for six years, including a tour in the Middle East during the first Persian Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm).
Stuart A. Steinberg, Director of Operations-- Stu is an Army Vietnam veteran who served with explosive ordnance disposal teams during his two tours in Vietnam. He was awarded two Bronze Stars, one with "V" Device for Heroism; the Purple Heart, two Army Commendation Medals; and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. Stu retired in 2003 after thirty years as a public defender and a criminal defense investigator specializing in capital murder cases. He is one of the first members of Vietnam Veterans of America and served on the National Board of Directors from 1985-1987. From 1983-1989, Stu was involved in the founding of nine state-funded veterans' outreach centers in Massachusetts and was the Director of the Greenfield center in 1985-1987. Stu is certified by Vietnam Veterans of America and the US Department of Veterans Affairs to represent veterans in VA claims. Stu runs COVO's day-to-day operations.
Clyde Evans, Chief Financial Officer -- Clyde served in the Navy from 1961-1967 and was in Vietnam from 1964-1966. He holds the Vietnam Campaign and Service Medals and the National Defense Service Medal. Clyde has a BS in Business Administration from the California Polytechnic Institute and retired after 35 years as the Director of Transportation for the Walnut Valley, California, School District. He is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America and is the treasurer of the VVA Oregon State Council.
James W. Gunn, Outreach Coordinator -- Jim served in the US Marine Corps in Vietnam and was med-evacked for wounds received in action. He was awarded the Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. Jim is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and has recently been working with Native American Vietnam veterans from the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, helping them in understanding the VA benefits process, and assisting them in getting the maximum benefits they are entitled to from the VA. Jim is also the Vice President of Chapter 820, Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc., and is a Trustee of VFW Post 1643 in Bend.