Beds4Vets’ mission is to help veterans and their families permanently transition from homelessness by providing the basic furnishings to transform an empty apartment into a home. ACME has supported this nonprofit through its GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program.
Tell us about Beds4Vets.
Beds4Vets, an all-volunteer organization, was founded in 2018 in Hockessin, Delaware, by four individuals. The founders—three veterans, including myself, plus a volunteer with a passion for the military—identified a need veterans had that was not being addressed. Beds4Vets was a response to how our veterans were being treated by the system they fought to protect.
In the United States, veteran homelessness has been a systemic issue for generations and will only increase with so many veterans returning from military engagements abroad and unable to assimilate back into society. Some have physical disabilities. Others have mental injuries, and so many of them never recover from being in combat. A great many of them end up on the streets.
Beds4Vets’ mission is to help these veterans and their families permanently transition from homelessness by providing the basic furnishings to transform an empty apartment into a home.
In our research, we learned that a program through the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides vets with Section 8 housing at a discounted rent. This part is excellent. But unlike many other Section 8 housing participants, disabled veterans must pay rent because they have disability income.
Due to regulatory red tape, VA social workers aren’t able to help the vets furnish their apartments. Often, the vets sleep on the floor with their two kids. They don’t have shower curtains, towels, or pots and pans to cook. These apartments do not come with lamps, so they’re often in the dark as soon as the sun goes down.
After sleeping on the floor with no hot meals for two weeks, the natural tendency is to want to go back to the shelter, where at least the veterans and their families can have a hot meal and a warm bed. In specific communities, as many as 70% of veterans returned to homelessness. And because of the nature of the program, when you go through the program once, you’re no longer considered a homeless veteran; you’re just considered homeless.
Like most Americans, we were very upset when we heard about this, and we went to the local VA hospital and spoke to the veterans who went through this program. We asked them, “What was it that you needed? What would have enabled you to stay in your home?” The answers were very simple. They’d say, “I’d like a mattress for myself and my children to sleep on,” or “I need a place to sit down, like a table and chairs.” One veteran told me, “It’s hard to shower when you don’t have towels or a shower curtain, and no one’s going to employ me if I show up for an interview unclean and unfed.” Simply put, with most of their disability income going to the rent, they can’t even afford the pots to cook food that might be donated by such organizations as ACME Markets.
So, we started Beds4Vets with what we thought was the most straightforward, common-sense solution.
What services do you supply to the community?
Beds4Vets provides all the basic household necessities to veterans transitioning from homelessness to their apartments. We’re not giving them televisions or luxury items. Instead, we supply the essentials needed to live independently or with their family: pots, pans, beds, sheets and blankets; lamps so they can see at night; and shower curtains and towels. We give them all those necessities so they have a place to sleep and exist.
Other charities that have tried to solve this problem were trying to do this by collecting used furniture. They spend millions of dollars paying people to go out and buy used furniture and used household items and then pay to store them in a warehouse. And after all that money was spent, many veterans were left with broken or unusable items. It’s ridiculous; in the United States today, our veterans who have sacrificed so much deserve better.
We quickly realized that buying them brand-new items is actually less expensive than paying for collecting and storing used merchandise. We found that we could have brand-new items delivered directly to their door for a fraction of the cost. When we started, we could furnish their entire apartment with new items for $600. With inflation, it is more now but still significantly less than the cost of storing and transporting used items.
The process is now fine-tuned. We train local VA hospitals and their social workers on our process. The social workers meet with the veterans, assess their needs and ensure they attend their medical appointments. Then, they contact us and provide us with a copy of their Form DD 214, which proves that they honorably served. Within 24 hours to a week, their items are delivered directly to their new home. Beds4Vets now serves veterans in seven states and hopes to take our program nationwide.
What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?
Since we started in 2018, not a single veteran we’ve worked with has returned to being homeless. There are communities where 70% were going back to homelessness. And the only difference is that Beds4Vets provided them with some basic home furnishings.
Since we started in 2018, not a single veteran we’ve worked with has returned to being homeless.
We’ve never met any of our vets. We want to preserve their privacy. That’s one of the things about our model; every veteran has dignity, and we respect that. These men and women have pride. They want to avoid being seen in need or needing handouts. They don’t want a bunch of volunteers trampling through their apartment. So, our model allows us to deliver directly to their door, and they never see us.
Please tell us a story about your organization that clearly illustrates your good work.
Let me tell you about the very first veteran we ever helped. We had a veteran who had a form of cancer on his face because of exposure in Vietnam. He was a 20-year veteran living in his car. No one would hire him. And because of the cancer, he needed surgery to save his life. The VA hospital offered to provide lifesaving surgery if he had a place to sleep that wasn’t his car. The VA placed him into the housing program and found him an apartment. When he went back to get the surgery that would save his life, the VA surgeons refused him because he was sleeping on the floor in his apartment.
The VA social worker was forbidden from giving the veteran a bed for his home. We knew we had to do something to help when we heard that story. That very day, we went and bought a mattress, a bed frame and whatever we could, and our board VP, Rick Martin, carried it over to his apartment. He’s the only veteran we’ve ever done that for, but we delivered it the same day because we wanted him to get that life-saving surgery.
No veteran should be refused surgery that could save their life just because they don’t have a bed to sleep on. We were able to help that veteran, but it’s an ongoing problem nationwide. It’s terrible that the system has forgotten about these vets and their service. We must remember that these veterans probably wouldn’t be in their situation if they hadn’t served our country. These veterans who sacrificed so much for us deserve better. Beds4Vets wants to honor their sacrifice and set them on a new course for their life.
No veteran should be refused surgery that could save their life just because they don’t have a bed to sleep on.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
Our most outstanding achievement is restoring dignity to so many of these veterans. Today, over 50 veterans and their families are housed and no longer homeless simply because of what we can provide. It’s not just veterans; their children will have a better life because of this.
We always say if Beds4Vets shut down tomorrow, we would be content because we know how many families we’ve impacted. If we never helped another veteran, we could still be satisfied because we’ve helped so many who otherwise would never have any assistance. We love what we have accomplished, but of course, we hope to continue to grow. We hope to bring Beds4Vets nationwide. This is why partnerships like the one with ACME are so important. It allows us to get our name out there and increase awareness to continue to grow.
What is the most important thing you want people to know about Beds4Vets?
I want every American to understand that they can impact their community. We believe we owe it to those veterans who have sacrificed so much for us. Everyone can make a difference. You can volunteer or give a little money. What many Americans spend on their coffee in one year would keep three veterans and their families off the street.
We believe we owe it to those veterans who have sacrificed so much for us.
We don’t have government grants. We are community-based and funded by the people. We would love more support or volunteers. But if not us, then identify other problems in your community that you can assist with. Make an impact on your communities. In our case, Beds4Vets fills a gap that transforms the lives of the veterans that we serve and their families.
How are you using the funds you’ve received from the ACME GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?
These funds have been used for a veteran in the local community. The money received from this program helped furnish the apartment of one of our veterans in need. This individual became disabled after serving in the military for many years and ended up homeless. Thanks to the ACME Give Back Reusable Bag Program funds, this veteran and their family have a furnished apartment.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We are so appreciative of the support from our local ACME. Ironically, it is in the same plaza as the Friendly’s restaurant where we initially held our weekly meetings. It was great to talk to the ACME staff and say, “We were founded over there, right across the parking lot.” This is our community, and we love that.
ACME provided us the opportunity to share the Beds4Vets mission at every single checkout. It was fantastic that they allowed us to distribute brochures and flyers to discuss our efforts. It was one of the best things we’ve done in our community because it gave us more exposure than any other activity we’ve ever done. And the funds we raised went right to helping veterans and their families in our community!
Anyone can support Beds4Vets by donating at our website, www.beds4vets.org. If anyone would like to donate, get involved, or start a local chapter, we encourage them to visit www.beds4vets.org and reach out to us. Every volunteer and every donation makes a difference.
Published August 24, 2023.