Justice for veterans: Lane County’s Veterans Treatment Court diverts veterans from jail into treatment. by Pat Farr

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

 

Retired US Marine Ron Cooper and I are stepping into Lane County’s Veterans Treatment Court. Ron has been a mentor and guide in the court since its launch.

Most veterans are strengthened by their military service, but the combat experience has unfortunately left a growing number of veterans with issue such as PTSD and traumatic brain injury. One in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment (details here). One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance use issue. Research continues to draw a link between substance use and combat-related mental illness (details here). Left untreated, mental health disorders common among veterans can directly lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.

Lane County’s Veterans Treatment Court, administered by Lane County Circuit Court Judge Valeri Love, requires regular court appearances, as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, and frequent and random testing for drug and alcohol use. Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment, given their past experiences in the Armed Forces. However, a few will struggle, and it is exactly those veterans who need a veterans treatment court program the most. Without this structure, these veterans might re-offend and remain in the criminal justice system. The veterans treatment court is able to ensure they meet their obligations to themselves, the court, and their community.

Remembering my friend and fellow soldier Tom Egan. By Pat Farr

Sunday, December 18th, 2016
I took this photo of Tom Egan teaching soldiers on the grenade course at Camp Rilea, Oregon

I took this photo of Tom Egan teaching soldiers on the grenade course at Camp Rilea, Oregon

Tom Egan was a cavalry officer.

 

I served with Lieutenant Egan starting in 1977 in the 162nd Infantry Brigade, 2nd regiment, alpha company.  At the time, not too long after our troops had returned from Vietnam, strength in the unit was low and Tom and I were two of only three commissioned officers  in the company.  The third was Captain Tony O’Connor.  The three of us spent a great deal of time together, along with another commander, Captain Ray Byrne.  (This article was reprinted in the Register Guard on Christmas Day, 2016, titled:  Unforgotten Soldier, memory of Tom Egan moves community to act)

In November 2016 I traveled to Washington DC along with Mayor Kitty Piercy and our guests Terry McDonald and Jon Ruiz to receive recognition and celebrate Michelle Obama’s challenge to house homeless veterans.  Locally operation 365 housed 404 homeless veterans during 2015.

Ours was a great effort, but far too late to help my friend Tom Egan, who died a few feet from where I am standing, homeless, freezing cold–suffering from alcoholism and its accompanying despair.

After spending time in the White House being congratulated for Operation 365  in Lane County I spent the next day with retired Colonel Tony O’Connor.  We decided, and its true, that celebration of efforts is hollow—eggshell thin—as long as a single person, veteran or other, is on the street while the rest of us enjoy what every man woman and child should have—a warm and secure place to sleep.

That is why I am dedicating the next five years of my public service to funding, locating and building at least 600 new units of housing—permanent apartments, tiny houses, single room occupancy units—that are dedicated to people suffering from behavioral health disorders—substance abuse, mental illness, PTSD.  These supportive housing units will not only come with a safe, secure, sanitary place to live but with wrap-around case work and care.  It will be hard to do, and it will require a monumental coordinated effort of government, nonprofit and private citizens and organizations.

We will call it Operation 600 (see story here).  And it will be dedicated and designed to prevent tragic endings such as the one Tom Egan suffered right here in this place.

The idea came from a breakout session at the Lane County Poverty and Homelessness Board’s annual retreat in October.  Kitty Piercy, Steve Manella, Jacob Fox, Michael Kinnison and I were brainstorming ideas for the board’s aggressive strategic plan which includes adding a large number of supportive housing units, and Kitty said, “Operation 365 rang a bell with a lot of people, how about Operation 600?”  We all grabbed the idea.

And Operation 600 has begun.  A project for 60 studios on Lane County property next to the Behavioral Health Center on MLK Blvd has received commissioners’ support and is in the artist conceptual stage…another project with up to 60 supportive housing units for single moms and their children is being discussed and supported, also on Lane County property.  The Oaks, a joint effort of Sponsors and the Housing and Community Services Agency (HACSA) in west Eugene, is nearing completion.  Last month we opened HACSA’s  second phase of Bascom Village which along with St. Vincent DePaul’s first phase now houses hundreds of  men, women and children.

Square One Villages, St. Vincent DePaul, HACSA, ShelterCare, are all in the process of adding permanent supportive housing.  Eugene Mission is a powerful partner in the efforts.

Lane County is engaged, Eugene is engaged, Springfield is engaged…Cottage Grove, Oakridge, Creswell, Junction City, Florence—we will all be engaged.  And it is happening.

Tom Egan was a brilliant man and will never know the impact he has had.  But his friends who are engaged in making sure he will be memorialized here will always remember.

As we reminisced about Tom Egan, Colonel O’Connor reminded me of Tom’s humor.  His engaging manner was popular with his soldiers and his friends alike.  While sitting around the tactical operation center during bivouac training Tom would lull us to sleep with laughter.

He had an amazing sense of humor and could deliver extemporaneous monologue on almost any topic.  His renditions of his role model, Teddy Roosevelt—who he was the spitting image of—left us all in stitches.

He taught soldiers at Fort Bliss Texas, and one of his favorite classes was in the use of the M67 fragmentation hand grenade.  He’d hold one up and say, “Meet Mr. hand grenade.”  Then he’d pull the pin.  “Without the pin, Mr. Hand Grenade is not your friend…”  He captured the class’s attention.

His puns were classic, such as, “If lawyers are disbarred for misconduct, are cowboys de-ranged?  Are librarians dis-carded?”

Captain Ray Byrne is now retired General Ray Byrne.  Ray shared a few words, “He was a good reliable friend and a good soldier.  He enjoyed being a soldier and a scholar and serving his country.  Alcohol can get the best of men and every day can be a struggle, which Tom unfortunately lost. Everyone who knew him misses his quick wit, jokes and toasts.  I remember him as never being down or discouraged.”

Now let us all remember Tom Egan’s life with a smile and his death with a promise.

Veteran phot

My National Guard Unit, 2-162d Infantry, stands down. by Pat Farr

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

We welcomed home the 2nd Battalion of the 162nd Infantry–the “First to Assemble” at a stand-down ceremony on Friday September 26 at the Lane County Fairgrounds.

Welcoming veterans home to housing, jobs and supportive services with Tim Angle of St. Vincent DePaul and SSVF

Welcoming veterans home to housing, jobs and supportive services with Tim Angle of St. Vincent DePaul and SSVF

Thanks to the men and women of my former unit who did what I was never called to do:  serve overseas in combat.

Housing homeless veterans local efforts achieving results. by Pat Farr

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

 

A powerful coordinated effort between public, private and non-profit organizations is on target for achieving our goal of housing 365 homeless veterans by the end of this year.

Mayor Kitty Piercy and I are listening to Anne Williams from St. Vincent dePaul at our kickoff event last year for Operation 365...housing homeless veterans

Mayor Kitty Piercy and I are listening to Anne Williams from St. Vincent dePaul at our kickoff event last November for Operation 365…housing homeless veterans

We are making use of funding from all three sources and we are demonstrating that, “Housing homeless veterans has benefits as well as costs.  Some benefits are economic, because veterans are less likely to end up in jails, hospital emergency rooms or morgues, and stand a better chance of being productive citizens.

“Other benefits are less langible, such as the reduction in the sense of shame Americans should feel about every homeless veteran who wants help but can’t get it.”  Editorial, Register-Guard September 5, 2015 (full text here).

In addition to Kitty Piercy and my efforts toward first lady Michelle Obama’s Mayor’s Challenge mentioned in the editorial, a debt of gratitude is owed to Lane County’s Poverty and Homelessness Board Veterans’ Housing Subcommittee comprised of PHB chair Pat Walsh, Pearl Wolfe, Lane County; Anne Williams, St. Vincent dePaul; Cindy Leming, Veterans Administration; Tod Schneider, city of Eugene; Tim Engle, Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families; Jacob Fox, Lane County Housing and Community Services Agency (HACSA); Sponsors as well as Piercy, me and others.

Thanks additionally to Jon Barofski of LaPerla Restaurant for his gifts of restaurant certificates to the many landlords who have helped find housing solutions where they did not exist before.

As we progress in our work housing homeless veterans, similar efforts will follow to assist other segments of the homeless population, including single mothers, teenagers and other groups deserving high-priority attention.

 

 

We are moving in on our goal of housing 365 homeless veterans in Lane County. by Pat Farr

Friday, August 7th, 2015

 

Report from Veterans Website:  On November 11, 2014 Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and County Commissioner Pat Farr launched Operation 365 Veterans in response to Michelle Obama’s challenge “to make a commitment to ending veteran homelessness in their cities in 2015.”

Veteran phot

We are now in our ninth month of Operation 365 Veterans efforts to house homeless veteran in Lane County.  It continues to be a team effort between public entities (Lane County, Eugene, HACSA, HUD), non-profit groups (St. Vincent DePaul, Eugene Mission) and private industry (land lords, volunteers, individual and corporate donors).

Tod Schneider from the City of Eugene is keeping close track of our progress toward the goal.

During a conference call with other cities in the Northwest Region on August 7 we were able to report that as of this week we have housed 205 of our goal finding housing for 365 unhoused veterans before November 31 2015, and with three months to go we are proceeding with increased efforts to realize the goal.

In the next two weeks I will be joining other elected officials including Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy in contacting land lords who have already participated in providing rental units for veterans to thank them for their efforts so far and to enlist their help in broadening the outreach to other landlords.

A list of local Veteran resources has been published in order to allow homeless veterans and others who know of homeless veterans to access the resources made available through the local efforts.  To see the list follow this link.