The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August 2002
A FEATURE STORY

Betty Slaybaugh, Director
Esperanza en Escalante

Photo by Michael Keating

 
 

Esperanza en Escalante

BY MOKIE PRATT PORTER 
 
Photo by Michael Keating
Top: Phyllis Russell inspects new housing for homeless veterans and their families.
Bottom: Transitional housing units at EEE.

Abutting the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, separated by a chain link and barbed wire fence from rows of mothballed fighter jets, is a 19-acre oasis of safety. The transitional housing program known as Esperanza en Escalante in Tucson, Arizona, houses homeless veterans and homeless veteran families. The program served its first residents in 1993. Today EEE serves 42 single male veterans and four families. Soon, when the new housing units are completed, there will be room for eight families. One unit will be equipped for the disabled.

The ever-growing, award-winning program was conceived in 1988 when VVA Tucson Chapter 106 formed a task force on homeless veterans. Betty Slaybaugh, at the time a social worker with years of experience and currently the director of EEE, described the tremendous need. “We were responding to the many Vietnam veterans who were homeless or in the process of being evicted from their homes. The chapter had no money and no program. The task force recommended setting up a transitional housing program.” In 1992 construction began. Says Slaybaugh, “It was exciting building EEE. Originally funded under the McKinney Act, we had a ten-year lease. We accepted the deed last May.”

Four to five veterans live in each house; each has his own room. Usually the VA recommends them to the program. When they come, they are substance-free; they have gone through a treatment program. Each resident sees a case manager weekly.

“People really want to come here,” says EEE Director Slaybaugh. “Most of the residents are disabled and unable to work, although some are in school. Tucson has a large population of transient veterans. We see a lot of veterans with problems resulting from substance abuse. They might have hep C, they are living with PTSD, some have bad backs or bad legs. They have lived a hard life and are not the essence
of stability.”

Phyllis Russell makes it work. A full-time social worker, she manages the day-to-day activities of the community. “The residents are involved in every aspect of the program, from house management to fund-raising. When the time comes, and they are ready to move on, we help them locate housing that they can afford on their disability income,” Russell says. They also will have learned essential life skills.

The local Tucson community has been supportive of EEE. During the Christmas holiday, a church group distributes presents and leads the veterans in carols around a campfire. The Church of the Later Day Saints provides birthday cakes and cards for each resident. The local VFW provides the Thanksgiving meal.

EEE is home-like in atmosphere, Betty says. “The veterans are treated as individuals and given the support that they need. In a five-person house, everybody has his own room. They share the kitchen. The houses are governed by the residents who hold weekly house meetings.”

Willie Caraveo and Balty Romero are retrofitting a mobile unit obtained from Williams Air Force Base. When it arrived, it had no interior walls. In its prior life it had been a clothing store. When their work is completed, there will be offices for Slaybaugh and Russell, room for a psychiatric nurse, a job service coordinator, and a conference room. Caraveo was one of the original four residents. He graduated from the program and has returned to help. He is essential to the day-to-day operations of the little community.

EEE has been a recipient of money from the Vietnam Veterans Assistance Fund (VVA’s charitable organization), which provided a grant in 1998 to cover utilities and insurance. This year, EEE is the chosen beneficiary of AVVA’s Project Friendship.

caption: From top: Phyllis Russell inspects new housing for homeless veterans and their families. Transitional housing units at EEE. Willie Caraveo (left) and Balty Romero go over floor plans.

   

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