Veterans group, law enforcement team up for NC vets in need
Statesville (N.C.) Record & Landmark
STATESVILLE, N.C. — When a group of local veterans heard that as many as 180 of their fellow veterans in Iredell County were homeless, they knew they needed to help.
Pete Meletis of the Military Order of the Purple Heart said a number of veterans teamed up to form the Iredell County Veterans Assistance Council (ICVAC) with a long-range goal of creating a shelter for veterans and families of veterans with no other place to go.
But, in the short term, Meletis said, ICVAC decided there was something that could be done immediately, and in cooperation with the Mooresville Soup Kitchen, began a program to feed veterans and their families two days a month.
Since that humble beginning, the feeding program now has a satellite site at the First Church of the Nazarene in Statesville, and soon will expand to a site in north Iredell, Meletis said.
The programs do more than offer a meal. The members of ICVAC offer a listening ear and can direct the veterans to other resources. “We feed these people. We help them with clothes, toiletries,” he said.
But while the veterans committee, under the auspices of the Iredell County Veterans Council, started the ball rolling, they have reached out to local law enforcement to help get the word out as well.
Meletis said Iredell County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Darren Campbell and the chiefs of both the Statesville and Mooresville police departments — Tom Anderson and Carl Robbins — have agreed to lend a hand to help these men and women.
Meletis said the involvement of law enforcement is helping get the word out to these veterans and the families of veterans that assistance is available.
“These guys are out there 24-7 and come in contact with some of the people we are looking to help,” Meletis said. “We’ve got all these tentacles out there, hoping to get the word out.”
Campbell said they are often called to suspicious persons or trespassing calls that lead them to homeless veterans.
“We are the first to get involved with a lot of homeless people and, if we can direct them to the right resources, it might be their last contact with law enforcement,” he said. He said that while it might not be the traditional role of law enforcement, deputies and officers are public servants and are there to assist the public, not just make arrests.
Also, he said, getting these homeless people help rather than arresting them on relatively minor charges saves the taxpayers money in terms of jail space and the time the officer devotes to taking a person to jail and the paperwork involved.
Statesville Police Chief Tom Anderson agreed.
“Sending them to jail doesn’t provide the resources these folks need. We can’t arrest our way out of these problems,” he said.
Anderson said that while officers cannot recommend specific resources, they can direct the person to contact Pam Navey, the community resources coordinator at the SPD, and she can put them in touch with services they might need.
Not only are deputies and officers giving these homeless folks the necessary information, but, in the case of sheriff’s deputies, they are also helping move the frozen meals put together by the Soup Kitchen to the satellite site in Statesville.
Campbell said, if time permits, deputies who need to come to Statesville to do paperwork or turn in reports, deliver the meals from the Soup Kitchen to the First Church of the Nazarene on the first and third Thursdays of each month.
Anderson said he foresees the numbers of homeless vets and others needing services growing with the upcoming troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and he’s glad to pair with local veterans groups to address the issue.
“I’m glad a local group stepped up and put these resources in place,” he said.
Meletis praised local law enforcement for stepping up and helping ICVAC make this program work.
“They have the compassion and care to reach out and help,” he said. “They’re doing God’s work.”