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Honor & Duty 5K in Fort Smith to help homeless veterans, Next Step

Times Record - 5/6/2017

May 06--At any given time, as many as one in five homeless individuals are military veterans.

That statistic is told frequently by Kim Wohlford, the executive director for Next Step Homeless Services, when she is spreading the word about the upcoming Honor & Duty 5K Fun Run and Walk to End Veteran Homelessness event. Set to begin at 7:30 a.m.June 10 at Darby Avenue and Ellis Street at Chaffee Crossing, the fifth annual event will be a certified, timed 3.2-mile race/walk for competitors; those wishing to walk the event at their own pace also are welcome to participate and show their support for homeless military veterans, she said.

"There will be free food for all participants and their families at the 5K, we're working on some entertainment and the National Guard will have a booth," Wohlford said. "Also, there will be some type of military vehicle -- it's a touch-the-truck thing for people -- and that will go along with our military theme for the event."

Expected to draw as many as 250 runners, walkers and other supporters from Arkansas and surrounding states, the 5K will raise funds for Next Step Homeless Services to help cover the costs with its Buddy Smith Home, a transitional, 16-bed facility that opened in May 2012 and focuses on homeless military veterans. Next Step operates the facility, which costs about $150,000 to keep open each year, Wohflord said.

"Homeless military veterans can live at the Buddy Smith Home at no cost to them," she said. "We provide them groceries and, along with Veterans Affairs, professional case management. They have group meetings every week and social workers.

"Our goal is to get the homeless veterans back to independent living -- to get them where they can go and be successful in life," Wohlford added.

Military veterans living at the Buddy Smith Home first must be a Next Step client and agree to abstaining from drugs and alcohol, she said. Once the veterans are there, they must secure employment or disability benefits and then save 80 percent of that revenue stream. That 80 percent goes directly back to the veterans once they exit the Buddy Smith Home program, Wohlford said.

"We have about 200 homeless men, women and children in our area, and about 18 to 25 percent are veterans," she said. "That statistic stays true throughout the whole country."

Most homeless veterans simply haven't undergone "the emotional healing" they require to move on with their lives, Wohlford said. Many of these veterans also don't have access to "mental-health treatment," which can lead the veterans to turn to dangerous methods, she said.

"Many of these veterans tend to self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs because they can't get the treatment they need," Wohlford said. "They then tend to lose their family, which is unfortunate. These veterans have sacrificed a lot, and sometimes the system lets them down."

Usually there are more male homeless veterans than female homeless veterans, possibly because more males traditionally are in the military, said Paula Glidewell, a Next Step board member who plans on participating in the 5K.

"There is one female veteran at our Esther Home," she said. "Sometimes, being homeless is one paycheck away, and other times, it can be something chronic. A lot of times, people think of homeless people as people who can't function in society, but that's not the case most of the time. Some of them just need help."

Wohlford agreed.

"Veterans really appreciate the help the community gives," she said. "Veterans are the first to give back to their community, as well, and they have a love for our country. Those veterans have sacrificed so much, and so we now have a chance to give back to those veterans."

The upcoming 5K will feature medals for the overall first-, second- and third-place winners in each age group and the overall first- and second-place male and female participants, Glidewell said.

"It's a fairly flat course, so it will be a speedy one for those fast runners, while the rest of us finish up later," she said with a laugh. "One year, a woman won it in a short time, but there's also people who have health issues and want to participate. They can walk or whatever -- they feel that supporting homeless veterans is a worthwhile event."

Glidewell said she hopes the 5K will raise $10,000, adding that individuals, families and groups can make additional donations at the event and at thenextstepfs.org.

"Thankfully, there are a lot of people who will support and help a homeless veteran," she said. "We want to help all of the homeless, including the veterans who have paid the price for our country. We always say, 'One homeless veteran is one too many.'"

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(c)2017 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)

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