Registration at the Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center Has More Than Tripled Since Its September Opening
MONTROSE –When Army veteran Brad Furness rolled into Montrose on Dec. 9, he didn't know anyone and had no place to go. Drawn to the area by what he envisioned, on the map, of the beauty of Black Canyon and San Juan Mountains, he was in search of a fresh start for his body and soul.
"I just love the area,” said Furness, who served in the Army from 1988-1991. “I started looking at the map and saw the mountains and saw the Black Canyon was up there, so I thought it would be a great place to live."
At first, he called the Walmart parking lot home, sleeping in his truck as the outside air froze around him. He had left South Dakota just a days earlier, where he worked as a golf course superintendent.
"I love working outdoors," he said.
Since that Sunday afternoon arrival, Furness has found shelter, furniture and food through combined city and county services and organizations, and thanks to the efforts of the nonprofit Welcome Home Montrose Warrior Resource Center.
Welcome Home Montrose, located at 11 South Park Ave in downtown Montrose, officially opened its doors on Sept. 11, with nearly 60 veterans registered for its services.
Now, three months later, that number has more than tripled, with nearly 200 veterans signed up, said Co-Executive director Emily Smith.
Furness is one of them.
"For the first week I was here,” he said, “I couldn't find anyone who would do anything for me.” When he got to WHM, “Everything turned around for me.
“I'm glad I'm here," Furness said with a smile.
Smith said Furness has been working with the organization's employment coordinator to find a job. Right now, there are homeless military veterans camping out in the woods of the Uncompahgre Plateau, west of Montrose, she reports, alone and in the cold. Too often, the men and women who serve in our nation's military and are discharged to flag-waving crowds and heroes’ welcomes disappear quickly, as the stark reality of settling into civilian life sets in. For too many, it’s an overwhelming task to rebuild a life, outside of the structure of the armed forces.
For WHM, this scenario is not acceptable.
"Unfortunately, we don't see much of them," Smith said of the vets living on the plateau.
But she’s trying to fix that, and WHM is working with the U.S. Post Office to get post boxes in place for them so they can apply for benefits like
Housing, jobs, job training, qualified health care, education, family ties and friendship bonds are something many displaced desperately need as they try to piece new lives as civilians together.
Smith said the organization has coordinators who work in just about every area that a veteran could require, and works with veterans of wars dating back to World War II.
Most of the homeless veterans WHM sees have the ability to take care of themselves, but lack resources and guidance, said Smith.
"It has been really nice to help point them in the right direction and give them some options and allow them to get settled in our community and start thriving," Smith said. "We see a couple every day that are new.
Although clients are mostly male, Smith said there was a young single mother, also a veteran, whose heat recently went out in her home. WHM teamed up with local businesses, and her heating problem was fixed. "As they come to us, we assess what we can do based on their means and living situation," Smith said.
THE ART OF LETTING GO
Each Thursday evening at the Welcome Home Montrose center, veteran and former Army Green Beret Lee Burkins focuses his time, attention and energy on teaching Tai Chi to veterans and their families so they can balance their minds and reduce stress. Burkins, who served in the Army from 1968 to 1971 in Vietnam, began to study martial arts and started learning Tai Chi in 1977. He moved to Boulder after his first enlistment, and then to Hawaii when he reenlisted in 1983.
"When I started learning Tai Chi,” he said, “there were only two books out that were translated into English, and there was a sentence on the first page of one of these books that said, "There is a great joy to be discovered in the practice of Tai Chi Ch'uan." And I thought, 'Man, I could use some of that joy in my life,'" Burkins said with a grin.
Burkins, who for years advocated for better programs to aid veterans and their mental struggles, published a book in 2003, Soldier's Heart: An Inspirational Memoir and Inquiry of War. He said he wrote the book, in part, to address the government's reluctance to acknowledge the trauma now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD (known in earlier times as known as shellshock, or battle fatigue).
He said he used his experience in combat, and in the years following his service to get the department of Veterans Affairs to acknowledge the disorders, and worked to get programs in place to treat those veterans affected. Currently the government's Veterans Administration program has stepped up its handling of combat-related stress and mental illness.
Berkins wants his students to take away techniques and knowledge of Tai Chi, which can be used in their everyday lives.
"How to let go, how to let go of your stress when it affects you physically, how to let go of your emotions when they start to override you, how to let go of your mind when it becomes a monkey and won't stop thinking of things, so learning to let go. Our minds cling to things, and there is a way to let go of those things," he said.
"I was a Green Beret, I was a hard ass," he said laughing. He then demonstrated through Tai Chi movements how he has changed from being a "hard ass" to someone who can let negative emotions go.
This week, new Montrose resident Brad Furness was in Burkins’ Tuesday night class (his classes are ever y Tuesday night, from 6-7 p.m.)
The WHM facility is closed, from Dec. 19, for the holiday season. It will reopen Jan. 3, 2013.
Burkins' book is also listed on Amazon.com.
For more information about Welcome Home Montrose visit: www.welcomehomemontrose.org, or call 970-240-5489.