Housing and Employment Insights from the Field
U.S. VETS-Las Vegas executive director offers advice on Stand Down, employment, housing

U.S. VETS-Las Vegas recently hosted its 10th Annual Stand Down. Over two days, a total of 128 agencies, over 500 volunteers, and 911 veterans participated. Among the veterans served, 16 veterans received housing and an additional 17 were hired directly at Stand Down.

The Corporate Connection interviewed the executive director of U.S. VETS-Las Vegas and chair of Stand Down Las Vegas, Shalimar Cabrera, to discuss how local businesses and nonprofits can forge successful partnerships to support our homeless veterans. Shalimar offered advice and best practices related to employment, housing, planning, and developing successful, long-term outcomes.

Create the Carrot

This year Shalimar wanted to engage businesses in a way to increase participation and support. She created an incentive for businesses and organizations participating in Stand Down by offering awards and recognition for the employer and housing provider of the year. This helped create an additional reason for businesses and organizations to participate, with the benefit of being featured on U.S. VETS’ blog, email outreach and website. The winning organizations also received a plaque to hang in their offices. This helped encourage businesses and organizations to work hard at determining ways to not only help veterans after the event, but offer employment and housing opportunities during the Stand Down.

Imaginative Housing Solutions

One housing provider stood out at this year’s Stand Down, 707 Property Management. Through a chance meeting at a HUD-VASH boot camp luncheon, Shalimar engaged the president of the company to help her determine how 707 could support housing for homeless veterans. After inviting the company to U.S. VETS upcoming gala, the two were able to create an engaging partnership through sponsorship and support of Stand Down.

For 707 Property Management, one key to success has been seeing the housing process through the eyes of the veteran and his/her family. This has led to some creative solutions, including waving the security deposit and offering the move-in special months after the initial move. While each veteran presents different needs, 707 works with U.S. VETS and the veteran to determine how best to support his/her needs while still applying good business practices.

One of the biggest changes in housing requests Shalimar has noticed, especially from young veterans, is the desire to not live in project-based housing. These veterans prefer to be out in the community, not necessarily tied to a visible program or case management system, even though they may be receiving supportive services. This change in preference makes the relationship with 707 and other property managers all the more important as we move further along in the campaign to end veteran homelessness.

Shopping for Free

An incredible idea and collaboration with Goodwill sparked one of the best practices to come out of Stand Down Las Vegas. For the last three years, Goodwill, U.S. VETS and local businesses have teamed up to create a free store. Starting in January, U.S. VETS collects donations from the local Air Force base, Humana, a local hospice and Vons grocery stores for three months. Goodwill then sorts and stores these donations.

During the Stand Down, Goodwill sets up a store on site, with various departments and even cash registers. Every veteran at the Stand Down receives vouchers delineating the amount of “money” they have to shop at the store.  All products and goods for the veterans are free. After checking out, U.S. VETS receives an itemized list. Some of the most requested items this year included men’s shorts, reading glasses, and baseball caps. Of the 911 veterans in attendance, 875 shopped in the store, a 96% attendance rate!

Best Lesson Learned

When Shalimar first set out to plan Stand Down, some of the most helpful advice came at the NCHV Annual Conference. This advice stays with her to this day – balance strong programming with detailed logistics. She stated that each of these areas has to be looked at equally. In addition, it is important to focus on the marketing and branding, and keep in mind that the focus is always on long-term outcomes. While the veterans are on-site, it is important to clear as many barriers as possible so veterans can get the help they are seeking on that day, or as rapidly thereafter as possible. Keeping these things in mind will help your organization plan your next Stand Down.

Gaining Support from the Private Sector

Shalimar encourages organizations to provide an orientation for participating businesses and organizations. Many organizations may not be familiar with the magnitude of Stand Down or its goals. Inviting them to the planning committees and directly asking them about their needs will help minimize the hurdles and lead to more successful events.

One example offered concerned Vons grocery stores. At a planning meeting, she asked what the company needed from U.S. VETS to be able to hire during Stand Down. For Vons, this included mandatory saliva testing and computers on site for online applications. To help meet this requirement, U.S. VETS provided private tents for the veterans and offered computer access to fill out the job application on-site.

For businesses looking to support their local homeless veterans, getting in touch with the Corporate Connection is a great place to start to find organizations in your community. Once determining possible partners, ask the organization for a tour, ask about their outcomes for their veterans, and seek out creative ways – together – you can join in the campaign to end veteran homelessness.

For more information, visit the Corporate Connection and contact Andrew Geary, Assistant Director of Business Partnerships, at ageary@nchv.org.