Memphis’ Alpha Omega Veteran’s Life House Offers
When Jack Cox, a Vietnam Vet, came into the Alpha Omega Veteran’s Services (AOVS) program, he was an alcoholic who had burned all his bridges and exhausted every family resource he had. He had “been to the well too many times,” was “at the end of his rope” and had nowhere to go and no one left to help him.
A middle-aged Caucasian male, Jack had come home from “Nam” and tried to make a life. At one point, he sold medical products. But, he was addicted to alcohol, lost it all, and ended up in Memphis at the VA Hospital. From there he was referred to AOVS.
Cox calls the period when he entered the AOVS program as “shock and awe.” He “went to a lot of meetings” and made new friends. Most importantly, AOVS helped him get clean and sober. Four years later, he serves as the house manager for Alpha’s Life House – a hospice and palliative care home in the Midtown area of Memphis. It truly is an old home, with bedrooms to accommodate eight veterans, a kitchen, den and cozy front porch. The American flag on the porch marks a place where those who have served their country come to get stronger for or heal from surgery. For others, it is a place to die.
The Life House is just one of the programs of AOVS, a private 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that literally rescues homeless veterans. It has temporary shelters, a transitional housing program, permanent housing, support services for post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), mobile outreach and hospice and palliative care. These were all the vision of Ola Mae Ransom, who in 1987, created this program after her own sons returned home from Vietnam experiencing some of the same problems that plagued Cox.
The name, Alpha Omega, is Biblical, from the book of Revelations. “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” Ransom chose that name to coincide with her ministry that AOVS would be the beginning of a new life for veterans and the end their suffering.
At the helm of AOVS since 1989 is Cordell Walker, executive director. Walker is not a veteran, but he’s been serving Memphis veterans for the past 23 years. He has a master’s degree in counseling and has used that over the years to aid and comfort clientele. Jolie Jeter, LMSW, is the AOVS program coordinator. Four years ago, she came to do an internship at AOVS and decided to stay on permanently.
Another person who works with and advocates for AOVS is Patricia M. Speck, an associate professor & public health nursing option coordinator at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Nursing. She met Walker in 2005, while volunteering. Speck, who is familiar with AOVS programs said, “Doctoral students in Public Health Nursing at UTHSC CON are involved in building capacity in organizations serving the vulnerable in Memphis. Since 2005, I have followed the wonderful work of Mr. Walker’s agency. Alpha Omega has a comprehensive approach to the homeless veteran from trauma through hospice. They have wrap-around services that meet the homeless veteran. AVOS is a national model for wrap-around services to homeless.”
How big is the problem?
According to The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, one-third of the nation’s homeless population is composed of veterans from WWII to Iraq and Afghanistan. Five percent of all homeless veterans are female. One-half of all homeless veterans served in Vietnam. More than 67,000 veterans in the U.S. are homeless on any given night. There are approximately 6,000 homeless veterans in the Memphis area over the course of a year.
“With the number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health diagnoses, and brain trauma injuries, the need is great,” said Speck.
AOVS has served more than 8,000 veterans since its beginning. It currently has about 122 veterans in the program. About 60 percent of their clients are referred by the Memphis VA Medical Center. Others hear about AOVS from other homeless veterans and walk in off the street. Once in the program, they get the basics: food, shelter and clothing. Their needs are accessed and rehab begins.
Sometimes homeless veterans are rehabilitated and they return to productive lives. Examples, in their own words:
“Alpha Omega took me off the streets, helped me find my passion for cooking. They helped me find funding for my education and sent me to The Texas Culinary Institute. Now I am an executive chef.”
“Alpha Omega brought me from homeless to home owner. I now work for one of the largest hotel chains in the country.”
“Alpha Omega saved my life. They gave me a home and a place to find purpose and meaning in life, face my alcohol addiction, reunite with my family and find financial stability.”
Others who are chronically disabled with dual diagnoses require permanent housing provided by AOVS.
Box: How Can You Help?
DONATE: AOVS gets help from state and federal agencies, is a United Way Agency and also has the support of the City of Memphis. Private donations make up 20 percent of its annual revenue. AOVS has waiting lists for their programs, including transitional and permanent housing for veterans.
A donation of $1100.00 will sustain a single veteran for one month. A tax-deductible gifts also help maintain and replace vans needed to transport veterans to and from the VA Hospital, the social security administration, and AOVS facilities.
VOLUNTEER: RN’s and CNAs are needed as volunteers to assist with veteran patients who are pre or post surgery, medically fragile or in the hospice program.
FUNDRAISING GOLF TOURNAMENTS:
June 16, 2012 Flag Day, AOVS with Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAMS)
Golf Course. Free to play. Donations welcome.
October 4, 2012 Cottonwoods Golf Course, Tunica, MS
($125. per golfer or $400. per team)
November 12, 2012 Veteran’s Day, Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAMS)
Golf Course. Free to play. Donations welcome.
Jack Cox says that helping veterans is not a “sexy” business. “People prefer to help children and babies and not 55-year-old men.” But these men have made great sacrifices for their country, and certainly deserve help. To donate, volunteer or find out more about AOVS Golf Tournaments, call Cordell Walker at 901-729-2345.