Kirklin is teaching a writing class at the shelter for homeless veterans. “Homeless is what we are but not who we are,” said Kirklin, 61, reading a poem he wrote to the group.
Kirklin, an Army veteran, spent time at Freedom House, a similar veterans’ homeless shelter in Kent, and helps the residents of Valor Home in their treatment at the Exeter Road facility.
Since its grand opening in July 2013, more than 350 veterans have completed programming at Valor Home.
“We are at about 90 percent occupancy year round,” said Matthew Slater, director of veterans programs for Family & Community Services of Portage County, the agency that operates the $1.4 million shelter, built with a $900,000 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) grant and a $474,000 loan.
The VA pays about $40 per day per resident to house residents at the shelter. Residents at the shelter receive creative arts, psychotherapy and other assistance and work with officials at the VA to receive benefits and find housing.
“It may be writing, art, music or trauma and stress groups,” said, Michael Semon, Valor Home program manager, of assistance received.
“We have seen everything from guys who have done multiple tours to peacetime vets,” Semon said.
“Valor Home was a godsend,” said Army veteran Curtis C., who had served several years in prison before arriving at Valor Home a few years ago.
The 60-year old who was in the Army in the late 1970s said he dealt with substance abuse issues and was suicidal but found peace after arriving at Valor Home.
“The people and staff here restored my faith in human nature,” he said. Another former resident, Johnny G., a Gulf War era veteran, also dealt with imprisonment and substance abuse issues along with untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“They made sure I got the treatment I needed and gave me the time to get my own place,” he said. Now, he hopes to become a drug and alcohol counselor.
“This place gave me the confidence in myself that I am able to accomplish anything I want to,” he said.
Valor Home staff and volunteers help residents receive earned benefits and move them into permanent housing.
About 75 to 80 percent of the residents at Valor Home move into permanent housing and about 15 to 20 percent leave before completing the program, said Slater.
About 30 percent of homeless veterans in America, said Slater, are combat vets, and not all residents of Valor Home are combat vets, or have post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.
“A lot have gone into the military as potentially the only outlet of getting out of a bad situation and they are still dealing with the same issues when they come home,” Slater said.
Many veterans come straight to Valor Home from prison and many also are dealing with substance issues, Slater said.
In fact, often Semon or other shelter workers pick up veterans from prison on the day they are released and bring them directly to Valor Home.
The shelter is in need of volunteers to drive veterans to and from appointments at VA clinics and do other tasks. The shelter, which is named for Harry Donovan, Jr., a Vietnam vet and the son of Harry Donovan, Sr., 90, a World War II Navy veteran who has donated to the facility and many other veterans programs in the area, can house 30 veterans at a time.
Kirklin meets with his writing group every Thursday morning. “We use three Rs in here – reflection, release and rebuild,” he said.
“We are rebuilding our mind, body and soul through writing,” said Kirklin to his students.
“Whatever words you put in your journal are yours.”
Family & Community Services of Portage County also operates homeless shelters for veterans in Kent and Lorain.
In addition, Family & Community Services of Portage County recently began The Summit County Veterans Family Services that is housed at Valor Home and provides assistance to homeless veteran families or families at risk of becoming homeless. Call (855) 234-7310 for help.