Called New Directions, it is the fourth home in a program for homeless veterans in Tyler and Henderson County started by Andrews Center Behavioral Healthcare System.
Koehler was homeless after serving four years in the Navy.
With help he is receiving at New Directions, Koehler said, “My goal is to move out into my own place and back out in civilization and be a productive member.”
Being able to reside in New Directions “means a lot to me,” he said.
Also homeless, Wayne Goodman, a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam, said he has gained self-esteem and a better outlook.
“I look forward now to more of a life. When I first came here, I didn’t care about nothing or anything. I didn’t care about myself,” Goodman said.
Goodman credits counseling he received through the Andrews Center and Veterans Administration for his change of outlook.
The Andrews Center already was operating three residences for homeless veterans in Tyler, when it expanded its program for housing homeless veterans by opening New Directions in Henderson County in early November.
U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling spoke during the opening ceremony, and dignitaries from Henderson and Van Zandt counties were in attendance.
All of the homes were given names depicting the idea of veterans coming off the streets and getting back into society, said J.D. Collett, a certified peer specialist who works with Andrews Center’s program for homeless veterans.
“One of the things we noticed back in August 2011 was there were a lot of veterans coming back and landing homeless on the streets,” Collett said.
Andrews Center opened its first residence for homeless veterans, called Fresh Start, in September 2011 at 826 W. Rusk St. in Tyler. It filled quickly with six homeless veterans off the streets of Tyler, Collett said.
Andrews Center then partnered with another agency — People Attempting To Help — which donated a house at 1429 N. Pegues Ave. in Tyler to serve as a home for homeless veterans. Called New Beginnings, it opened last Christmas Eve and is also full with six homeless veterans.
About two months ago, PATH donated another house at 312 Vance St. in Tyler for the homeless veterans program. It, too, is full with six veterans.
The city of Tyler limits the number of residents per home inside the city to six.
Although the home called New Directions in Henderson County also has six residents, it can currently house eight, and once Andrews Center finishes installing a sprinkler system, it is expected to be certified by the Veterans Administration for up to 16 veterans.
Sitting on a 7 1/2-acre tract where veterans plan to plant a vegetable garden to grow much of their food, New Directions was formerly the Pine Cone Bed and Breakfast. It has a spacious gourmet kitchen, a huge family room, a large dining room, four bathrooms and six bedrooms.
Andrews Center operated all the homes on its own until about a month ago, when the Veterans Administration began providing some funding for operations. It was already providing benefits for veterans.
“With VA funding behind us, it’s a lot better on Andrews Center and the winners are vets coming off the streets,” Collett said.
“VA funding is tremendous for us,” he added, noting it has enabled Andrews Center to hire an extra case worker.
“We give them (homeless veterans) hope and purpose. We build their self-esteem and help them find jobs. We are helping them get back out in society, and when they go back into society they are making a positive difference. That’s the whole goal,” Collett said.
Since the homes began operating, Collett said, “We have given vets a home and we gave them an instant family.” The veterans and staff are not related by blood but are related by a brotherhood and sisterhood just as strong as blood, he said.
The homes provide a family environment. “Recovery is really possible when you are in a loving environment instead of in a shelter or where you are just another number,” Collett said.
“We want to treat them like the heroes they are,” he said.
The homes get veterans signed up with the Veterans Administration for benefits, provide transportation to meetings with VA and for counseling with Andrews Center. Art therapy is available once a week in Tyler.
“We are treating them daily as far as their medical needs and their mental needs and then they work on their social skills at the house,” Collett said.
All of the homes have a full-time staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week by rehabilitation technicians. Case workers work with veterans from the time they enter a home, set up treatment plans and goals and help them with employment.
Several big companies, such as Goodwill Industries, partnered with the Andrews Center to hire the homeless veterans.
It’s hard a lot of times for a veteran who has lived on the streets four or five years, who doesn’t have a work history to find full-time employment in the current economy, Collett said.
Many churches, community groups and individuals have assisted the program for homeless veterans, he said, citing Green Acres Baptist Church and Our Savior Lutheran Church as examples.
Classic Toyota donated a 15-passenger van used in transporting the veterans, and does maintenance of the vehicle.
It would have been hard for the homeless program to make it the past 14 months without the community support it has received from churches, individuals, families, businesses and others, Collett said.
Hopefully, within 90 days, the veterans are ready to leave the home for homeless veterans, although a lot of them need to stay longer, Collett said.
“We still work with the individual vet on getting them where they need to be. We don’t want somebody to get out and find they couldn’t make it and land up back on the streets. Hopefully they’ll never have that problem again.”
The goal is to get veterans where they can hold a job, pay their bills, function in the real world and be happy doing it, he said.
“We will open as many homes as it takes to get veterans off the streets,” he said.