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Mission: Family: Veterans group ‘in the trenches' with hope, results

Nov. 18, 2012 - 02:27PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 18, 2012 - 02:27PM  |  
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Army veteran Lloyd Clarke had been in a homeless shelter in northern Virginia for four months when Deborah Snyder found him this year.

"I was at the end of my rope. I didn't know how much longer I could take it," said Clarke, 60.

Clarke's situation is an example of how charitable individuals and groups are stepping in to help homeless veterans when, for whatever reason, government agencies don't.

Snyder, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is helping change the lives of homeless veterans, one at a time, through her organization, Operation Renewed Hope Foundation in Alexandria, Va.

Since Snyder founded her charity in December, she has helped 30 homeless veterans get housing in the Washington area.

Clarke and his wife had been sleeping in a car and in shelters after he lost his job because of a driving-while-intoxicated incident. "What I did was wrong," he admits, and his situation just snowballed.

"Being homeless was bad enough, but having an invalid wife depending on me was worse," he said. "She didn't deserve this."

His wife suffered a stroke seven years ago, and the couple have no medical insurance. While they were homeless, she suffered a seizure. Hospital officials helped get her signed up for Medicaid, and she was able to move into a nursing home.

Clarke, who served in the Army from 1972 to 1974 and 1983 to 1992, and left as a sergeant, said he tried, without success, to get help from the Veterans Affairs Department. He was working part time but was not making enough to pay his bills.

That was when Snyder found him. Within a week, she had set up a pro-bono dental appointment for him, and she had helped him make the connections to move into a rented house within six weeks.

She's helped him get a haircut, furniture and a job interview. And she keeps following up.

"She doesn't just cut you loose," Clarke said.

Snyder drove Clarke to an appointment to fill out paperwork for federal housing assistance and put him in touch with a VA caseworker. "I don't know an organization on earth that can handle what the VA is trying to handle and what they're about to be slammed with," she said.

Snyder is working with veterans ranging in age from 27 to 81; she helps them get housing or stay in their housing through a combination of advocacy, interest-free loans and corporate leases, working with government, individuals, businesses and charities to renovate and furnish donated and discounted homes in the area.

"She's the most tenacious, dedicated person I've ever met," Clarke said. "She's out there in the trenches."

Snyder and her organization "don't try to blow smoke up your shirt," Clarke said. "They do what they can for you. They give you a hand up, not a hand out."

Clarke now wants to pay it forward — he helps Snyder move furniture into housing for other former homeless veterans.

kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers is the wife of a military retiree.

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