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Volunteers build community garden for homeless vets

By Jed Boal | Posted - May. 16, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — An army of volunteers from Home Depot built a community garden Thursday for homeless vets living in a Salt Lake apartment complex.

The 13 veterans who live in the Valor Apartments on 700 East will have vegetables, flowers and a fantastic patio to enjoy all summer.

"We get our hands dirty, out in the sunshine, all serving our veterans," said Rachelle Keaton, one of dozens of volunteers from stores along the Wasatch Front. "It's just it's just a really exciting atmosphere to be in."

Most of us understand just how good it can feel to roll up your sleeves and apply yourself to a project in the garden. That's one of the simple ideas behind this garden for the vets, who are in a transitional period between homelessness and new jobs, and new homes.

"I think being around people, and being around people with similar problems is very beneficial, it has been for me," said Chris Clark, an Iraq War veteran who has lived at Valor Apartments more than a year.

The Salt Lake Housing Authority, which runs the program at the apartment complex, sees it as a healing garden, in one sense. It's a place where the veterans can get together and share.

"A sense of community that is really beneficial to vets trying to transition back into the real life," Clark said.

He's back in school, working on a degree in social work, and holding down a couple of jobs.

"I think a lot of us tend to isolate and feel alone," he said, referring to homeless veterans.

Contact information:
To contact the Salt Lake Housing Authority, call 801-746-5561, ext. 301.

He looks forward to nurturing the plants and his friendships, and raising the American flag over the garden each morning.

"I'm going to try my hand at tomatoes and maybe some fresh herbs and stuff," Clark said. "I'm kind of excited."

Home Depot employs 35,000 veterans nationwide; 1,500 are active duty right now. Over the next three years, the home improvement giant plans to spend $80 million on projects like this. The Home Depot Foundation provided a $45,000 grant to create this urban garden.

Why are veterans homeless?
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homeless individuals — extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and limited access to health care — a large number of displaced and at risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and possible mental health issues compounded with substance abuse and a lack of family and social support networks.

From VA Salt Lake City

"This is our way of giving back to them for what they've given us," said Glenn Blada, manager of the Sandy store and a team leader of the volunteers.

The project includes a wall of honor, which displays the emblem of each of the military services right below the flagpole.

"With the homeless rate of our veterans, I think that we all need to get out and help out," volunteer Conley Butler said as he planted peppers in a planting box.

"Just giving them something simple, peace of mind, just caring for something," Keaton said. "I think it's going to be really, really good."

It is for veterans in our community eager to start the next chapter in life.

"They want to be a part of the community, and this is a step up for them." says Bill Lee, a veteran and on-site apartment manager.

Programs like this help reduce homelessness among vets. Right now, there are nearly 300 homeless vets in the Salt Lake community. More than half are in transitional housing programs like the one at Valor Apartments.


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