When Joe Delpino learned there were 119 veterans living on the streets of the Lowcountry, South Carolina it became personal.
“I’m humbled by what these guys do to serve our country and I want to try to help them as much as I can,” said Delpino, a retired Navy captain and past president of the Exchange Club of Daniel Island. “I went to the board of directors and said we’re going to drive that number to zero.”
Project ZERO is an initiative by the Exchange Club of Daniel Island to help house all the homeless veterans in the eight-county area around Charleston. It works in partnership with Veterans Matter, a national program that secures permanent housing for homeless veterans and their families.
“There are over 37,000 homeless veterans in our country and that is a complete travesty,” Delpino said.
Veterans Matter collaborates with the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to identify homeless veterans and find them suitable housing. But when housing is found, there is often a funding gap because the veteran does not have the required money for the first month’s rent and deposit. Veterans Matter and Project ZERO provide the funding to fill that gap and secure immediate housing.
“The program has a 91% success rate of keeping them housed, which I think is phenomenal,” said Delpino. “HUD subsidizes the rent for the first year and the VA provides medical and mental health services along with job training and placement services that help the veterans get back on their feet. It’s such a positive thing.”
Nationally, Veterans Matter has housed more than 4,000 veterans and locally, Project ZERO has housed 43 of the 119 homeless veterans. Delpino estimates they need about $49,000 to secure shelter for the remaining 76 veterans. “It becomes very local, very personal,” he said. “Those guys are sitting in our streets … these are our people … let’s go fix that problem.”
Delpino said this is a particularly vulnerable time for our veterans. Homeless people are more susceptible to infectious diseases like COVID-19 and the pandemic has eliminated many fundraising activities for advocacy groups like Veterans Matter. Project ZERO’s primary source of funding so far has been the veteran’s dinner at the Daniel Island Club, where the initiative kicked off last year. But that dinner was canceled this year due to COVID-19, leaving Project ZERO with a funding shortfall.
“I would love to get them all housed for Christmas,” said Delpino. “These guys have suffered and done so much, it’s endearing their commitment to this nation and our freedoms.”
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