Serving your country can provide a sense of pride and patriotism, but more than 37,000 veterans1 experience homelessness on any given night. Georgia has the fifth-largest veteran population in the country,2 so the need for resources is high. That’s why the Veterans Empowerment Organization (VEO) in Atlanta is addressing the issue head-on, using a holistic approach to help restore the lives of those who’ve served.
Support for affordable housing, wellness, and work opportunities
“When they come back, they’re often not the same,” said David Mance, VEO’s transitional housing manager.
Some lose everything, including their marriage and homes. Mance has seen how military service can affect people.
“No veteran should be homeless,” said Elijah Conrad, a former U.S. Airman. “You served your time. I didn’t go to war for myself. I went to war for everybody here.”
Conrad speaks quickly and with a smile. He’s been attending the VEO for two months.
The VEO has served more than 6,000 veterans since 2008, meeting them where they are physically, mentally, and emotionally, and helping them achieve a greater level of well-being. Participants have access to 90-day temporary housing, employment placement, food, and resources to help with substance abuse, mental health, and physical wellness.
“Our goal is to help them reach and maintain sustainability and stability in their lives,” said VEO Director of Development Alfonso Rogers.
Often, the VEO’s interventions are these veterans’ only source of support for necessities.
“I was once living in the woods,” said Conrad. “I’m now staying in an apartment. I’m also going to school.”
VEO’s campus includes a kitchen where meals are prepared daily by a chef, a closet where clients have access to clothing, a computer room, and a shared social space. Employment Specialist James Stringfellow said he wants clients to feel comfortable, but the goal is to get them to the point that they no longer need the VEO’s services.
“We want everyone to have an exit strategy, and part of that strategy is financial wellness,” he said.
Starting the financial education conversation with Truist
Like many of the VEO’s participants, Conrad’s finances are a challenge. The VEO helps veterans navigate their pensions and secure employment, as well as provides practical skills to fill the gaps.
Truist, a longtime supporter and financial partner of the organization, worked with the VEO to create a financial education program. Financial Wellness Leader Lee Anne Ledford developed a monthly workshop curriculum of relevant topics. She also works one-on-one with veterans after each session to answer questions and learn more about their needs.
Ledford finds sharing her financial journey helps her connect with the veterans. In college, she signed up for every credit card offer she received and was soon drowning in payments and high interest rates. Getting a mentor helped Ledford create a plan and reduce her growing debt.
“I went to my boss and said, ‘Ms. Judy, what am I doing? How do I get out of this?’ And Ms. Judy took the time with me,” Ledford said. “She coached me. She guided me in the right direction.”
In one recent workshop at the VEO, Ledford discussed the fundamentals of budgeting and assessing one’s net worth. Participants received budget templates, and Ledford explained how to use the tools in various scenarios.
“Working with Lee is a huge benefit,” Stringfellow said.
Ledford believes financial education can change a life forever, and that’s her motivation.
“I know I’m doing a good thing. No matter what, I can lay my head down and go to sleep knowing I may have made a difference in one person’s life, she said.
Serving veterans through care and community
Many VEO staff are veterans or have family members who served.
“I feel by being here, I can help them because I understand their situation. I can advocate for them in different agencies,” said Mance, who served in the U.S. Air Force. Their work goes beyond the role—it’s a passion.
“When you get away from trying to do things for yourself … and do it for the sustainability of the organization, it’s much more fulfilling,” said Rogers.
The sense of community extends to the veterans as well. They often work together and are eager to share resources and knowledge—each person contributes to the unspoken family bond.
“We’re all veterans,” Conrad said.
He believes the staff’s dedication and the family environment is what makes the VEO so successful.
“My first month, I knew nothing about any programs that were going on,” Conrad said. “Next thing you know, I got pulled into a class, and I got into school. So, the staff is the starting point.”
Rogers hopes the launch of an alumni program will soon be an additional resource for veterans once they graduate from the VEO—becoming an extension of the community they had on campus.
See how Truist is helping build better lives with care in Atlanta.
1 “The 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress,” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Community Planning and Development, January 2021.
2 “The Problem,” Veterans Empowerment Organization. Accessed November 2, 2021.