Established in 1994 by four Vietnam veterans, the mission of Welcome Home is “to reduce veteran homelessness by providing services and resources to meet basic needs and improve overall quality of life.” It is the only shelter in Columbia dedicated specifically to providing emergency and transitional living services to veterans and their families.
“They deserve any help we can give them.” said Sophia Swyers, director of shelter services. The organization helps clients access Social Security and service-related benefits, food stamps and substance-abuse treatment, among other services. The organization also has a peer-mentoring program and small groups that help veterans get involved in the community and expand life skills.
“We try to do as much as we can to help them build on their lives in the time we have them here,” Swyers said.
The organization works closely with Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families, which helps veterans and their families obtain and sustain stable housing. Welcome Home also works with Feeding America and with the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.
Most clients arrive at Welcome Home based on referrals from the Veterans’ Association (VA) or from community members. A majority of clients are between ages 35 and 50, and they stay 190 days, on average, Swyers said.
Welcome Home has served 161 homeless veterans since 2010 and 63 veteran families since 2012. Of those served, 95 percent have attained or maintained housing. The shelter housed 62 veterans in 2016, up from 39 in 2015. In part, that’s because fewer veterans are staying for the full six months allowed under the VA grant that funds many of the shelter’s activities.
The organization’s emergency shelter has a capacity of 13 male veterans, though it sometimes provides hotel rooms for veterans and their families. Construction is underway on a new facility that will have 32 bed spaces, including space for families and female veterans. The facility is set to open this summer.
Staff members at Welcome Home also are developing a volunteer curriculum so they can regularly host volunteers, Swyers said.
For more information on Welcome Home, visit welcomehomelessveterans.org.