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Ron Johnson speaks with a representative from Mission Accomplished: Stable Housing, a supportive program with a goal to reduce the number of homeless veterans. The booth was one of many services during Operation Veteran Outreach, a city effort to coordinate services for area homeless veterans in a Òone-stop shopÓ location. The veterans were treated to new clothing, dental check ups, haircuts and a wide variety of different services at Miller Plaza in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Sunday, October 19, 2014.

HOW TO HELP

Veterans interested in being a peer mentor to other veterans may call Homeless Program Coordinator Heather Cook at 643-7301.

Mayor Andy Berke is pushing to house every homeless veteran in the city by 2016, if not by the end of this year.

"They need our help," Berke said. "They deserve our help. They fought for us."

The city's latest effort is calling on stable veterans who are housed to mentor those who are homeless.

More than a dozen veterans volunteering to assist other veterans met at Chattanooga City Council Chambers on Thursday night.

"I want to do something to help because I struggled so hard to get a job," said Kathy Camp, an Air force veteran.

The goal is to help veterans find housing and get them services they need to remain housed. The group also will assist veterans who recently received housing.

Chattanooga is among 75 cities in the country participating in the Zero: 2016 initiative. Those communities are working to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and chronic homelessness after that.

Chattanooga has housed 37 veterans in the past six months, Berke said in July.

Eighty homeless veterans were counted in the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition's Point-In-Time Count this year.

City officials are still developing the Veteran Peer Mentor group, but ask that mentors commit at least two hours a week to assisting a veteran.

Veterans Wendy Jackson, who served in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan between 2000 and 2005, and Edwin Holmes, who served from 2001 to 2005, led the session Thursday. Going from the military to civilian life can be a tough transition, they said.

"You go from waking at 6 a.m. [on the go] to waking with nothing to do," Holmes said.

He said that, according to a 2012 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans a day commit suicide, many because of depression and mental illness.

It's helpful for homeless and desperate veterans just to have a fellow veteran for conversation, he said.

There is no set time for how long the mentor/mentee relationship continues. Homeless Program Coordinator Heather Cook said she wants to hear the mentor's goals and the mentee's goals before setting a time. The overall goal is housing, she said.

According to Green Doors, a Texas-based nonprofit focused on ending homelessness, "The greatest risk factors for homelessness are lack of support and social isolation after discharge. Social networks are particularly important for those who have a crisis or need temporary help. Without this assistance, they are at high risk for homelessness."

The city will provide training for mentors and an orientation, Cook said.

It will also provide a meet-and-greet time for the mentors to meet.

Civilians might also be used in the Veteran Peer Mentor for veterans who were discharged before going to combat.

Cook plans to send each veteran who signed up a questionnaire concerning their availability.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 757-6431.

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