Salvation Army shelter a haven for veterans without homes

By Chicago 6 Min Read

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CHAMPAIGN — Darrell Lindsey knows what fear is.

As a veteran of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, he jumped out of perfectly good aircraft many times.

When he was left without a home recently due to a family situation, he experienced a different kind of fear — the kind that too many veterans experience, of being out on the street with nowhere to turn.

That’s where the Salvation Army’s veterans shelter and services facility in Champaign came in.

For more than two months, Lindsey has had a place to stay at the shelter while a new home could be found for him.

Lindsey called the Department of Veterans Affairs, which referred him to the Salvation Army.

He was initially reluctant to go the shelter because he still wanted to retrieve his furniture and other belongings from his previous home, but that proved impossible.

It’s all worked out.

“I finally gave up and came in, and I’ve had a wonderful time here,” Lindsey said. “These people took me in. They’ve done everything for me.”

The program found a new home for him — a two-bedroom apartment in Danville that he planned to move into on Wednesday.

“If it wasn’t for these people here, I’d probably be another one out on the street,” Lindsey said. “I didn’t know where the heck I was going to go. These people here are so nice. They fed me, gave me a place to sleep and made me feel wanted here.”

The 69-year-old left the Army near the end of the Vietnam era on a medical discharge after three years of active duty.

Christy Thompson, the Salvation Army shallow subsidy coordinator for Eastern Illinois, works with veterans who need a hand.

She helps them find jobs and gets them on disability if they qualify “so they can take over their rent on their own.”

The Eastern Illinois District spans from Watseka down to Effingham. Thompson said there has been a “drastic increase” in the number of veterans at risk of becoming homeless.

As the age of the average military veteran increases, there are more of them who can’t pay their bills and need a place to live, she said. Health issues increase, putting more strain on their finances.

“One thing that really helps this service population is American Legion Post 24, Champaign, helps provide items we can’t buy that are basic needs,” Thompson said. “There are times vets walk in and haven’t eaten in two or three days.”

The post donates a variety of items, including food. A can of soup can be fixed quickly for a veteran in need.

“It makes it less stressful for us and is very helpful for the veterans,” said Thompson, who said she grew up around active-duty military personnel.

Matt Griffin, who runs the transitional housing program, said to qualify, a veteran can’t have gone through a dishonorable discharge or been through a general court martial.

The average stay is 90 days while an attempt is made to find permanent housing.

Griffin said negotiations are underway to buy a property in Rantoul that would provide individual apartments.

“We’re looking to increase the number of beds available from five to nine” in Champaign County, he said. “There’s a big need. Champaign usually remains fairly full. We have a contract through the VA for 31 beds” for the program in the district.

Griffin helped start the transitional program in 2018 when grant money became available. It expanded to Champaign in October 2020.

A Marine Corps veteran, Griffin said military veterans are more likely to experience mental illness and addiction problems due to their experiences compared to the general population.

“Not that it’s nonexistent in the civilian population, but it’s more relevant in the veteran population,” he said.

After a permanent place is found for the veterans, they enter the transition-in-place program. Following graduation of that, they assume the lease.

Every year, Griffin and his wife prepare a Veterans Day meal.

“This year is a little different,” he said. “It will be on Friday. At all four of my locations, we’ll go to each location and cook a meal.”

The event is open only to the veterans.

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