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Homeless veterans find help off the streets through South Bay program

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Getting homeless veterans off the streets: that’s the goal of a program in Santa Clara County called All the Way Home. And on Veteran’s Day they’ve announced they have successfully housed nearly 2,000 men and women.

But there’s still a lot more work to be done.

That’s because each month, new veterans are becoming homeless.

And so this partnership brings in everyone from government agencies to private landlords to get them the housing and services they need.

For Michael Eckhart, helping homeless veterans is personal.

That’s because he knows exactly what it feels like to be in their shoes.

Eckhart, an underwater demolition expert in the Navy, was the victim of downsizing in his civilian job, and ultimately spent 12 years on the streets.

“It makes you want to scream out look at me you know. I’m human too. It’s a culture shock. It’s demeaning and it’s not just veterans who go through it,” says Eckhart.

But thanks to a program called All the Way Home, Eckhart and his wife, have had their own apartment for the last year and a half.

And they’re not alone. Since 2015, the campaign in Santa Clara County has housed nearly 2,000 veterans, offering them health services, school vouchers, and job assistance too.

“And this really helps ease the transition off of the street, but also back to a life that the veteran feels is fulfilling and purposeful,” says Chad Bojorquez of Destination: Home, one of the agencies orchestrating the program.

All the Way Home began has an idea: what if public, private, and non-profit groups came together with a single focused goal?

“If we go after the veterans population as a doable number, something we could actually achieve, what will happen? Let’s give it a shot,” says Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese.

The progress is slow. But the number of veterans they’re housing each month is now greater than the number of new veterans falling into homelessness.

“We’ve created something that’s promising. We’ve shown it can work. We’re able to get more homeless vets housed, than are getting pushed out into the street. Now we need to replicate and scale,” says San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Now with stable housing, Eckhart has been able to focus on work.

He got a job with a non-profit helping homeless veterans. And though his contract is ending and he’ll soon need a new job, he loves making a difference.

“It brings me to tears when I think about it. All the veterans who are out here, homeless, nobody to lean on, nobody to turn to. And yeah, it chokes me up,” says Eckhart.

And he has a message for the veterans still on the streets: “Don’t give up. Have faith. We are out there and we’re going to come for you. And we’re going to get you housed. That’s the most I can say. We will get you housed,” says Eckhart.

All the Way home has also helped get 114 homeless veterans into hotel rooms since the pandemic began. The goal now is to find them permanent housing too.