DENVER — A Colorado man is working to help nine veterans experiencing homelessness get off the streets and into a home.
In the United States, there were nearly 40,000 homeless veterans as of January 2019, and Andrew Canales, founder of Houses for Warriors, is hoping to make a difference where he can.
"I want to do everything I can to help my brothers and sisters," he said.
Canales started Houses for Warriors to get homeless veterans off the streets. His mission started with renting a home in Colorado that nine veterans can call their own, at least for a period of time.
"This fills the gap for current housing assistance that the VA offers," he said.
The home gives veterans a place to sleep, shower and eat while their VA assistance kicks in.
"There's currently the HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) system, which is permanent housing vouchers, for veterans that are struggling with homelessness," Canales said. "The problem is it takes nine to 12 weeks for that process to go through. So these veterans are forced to stay on the street or to go into a shelter."
Staying on the streets is something Canales wants to avoid, at least for the first nine vets staying in the home. It's a hardship he knows all too well.
"I have a personal connection to veterans. I'm a veteran myself. I did two tours in Iraq, and then I had a rough transition. When I got out of the military, I ended up homeless myself," Canales said.
The overall plan isn't to just provide veterans with a pillow to rest their head on at night, but also to give them the skills to get the life they want.
"What we try to do is figure out what their goals are — if they're trying to get off the street, if they're trying to get their life back in order," Canales said.
Finding the veterans who need help has been an all-hands-on-deck approach for Canales.
"One of the things that we have to do is find these guys using local homeless outreach teams, the city and the police department, and let them know about this program," he said.
Canales said there have been times when he went out into the streets himself, speaking with homeless veterans one-on-one.
Right now, only three beds in the Warrior House are taken. Six still need to be filled with a big goal lying ahead.
"We want to open 50 homes a year for the next five years," Canales said. "The goal is to create a national program and to house all 40,000 veterans that are on the street, or to have 40,000 beds that we can house with."
For now, the one Colorado neighborhood house is a start.