The veterans staying at the DeGeorge at Union Station homeless shelter now have new carpet, newly painted walls and new ceiling fans – thanks to the combined efforts of The American Legion family, Rebuilding Together and Sears’ Heroes at Homes program.
The three entities came together Aug. 23 in Houston to kick off the Legion’s national convention and to renovate the 13-year-old facility that has housed more than 900 veterans since its opening. Volunteers spent the morning painting and laying down carpet for the residents, who range from ages 24-85. Legionnaires, Legion Riders and Auxiliary members all took part in the work. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to get involved,” said American Legion Past National Commander Fang Wong, who helped paint alongside his wife, Barbara. “We want people to know what The American Legion is doing. What better way to do that then leading by example? We talk about branding. What better way to brand ourselves than something like this?” DeGeorge is open to male and female veterans; residents pay a minimum of $50 a month up to 30 percent of their total monthly income for rent, capping at a maximum of $417 per month. The center pays all utilities, and each room has a small refrigerator and microwave. There is a community kitchen available to all residents. “This is the first time we’ve had the walls painted in 13 years, and the carpets hadn’t been replaced since then,” said Lynda Greene, community director for DeGeorge. “With 900 people going through here, that’s a lot of wear over the years.” The renovation matters to the facility’s residents. “A lot of veterans felt like they weren’t validated,” Greene said. “They felt they’ve been rejected. Every time something like this happens for them, it tells them that yes, they are appreciated. Something like this matters to them.” Jim Soller, executive director of Rebuilding Together Houston, calls efforts like DeGeorge renovation a labor of love for his organization. “I’ve been involved with Rebuilding Together for 25 years,” he said. “It gets in your blood. You love it because it makes a difference for someone else.” Several distinguished guests showed up at DeGeorge during the renovation, including American Legion National Commander James Koutz, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and national and local representatives from Sears. “Trying to get homeless veterans off the street – that’s what we are about,” Koutz said. “I thank each of you volunteers for doing that. This is our first one of these, and we’re going to keep doing these at every national convention, starting next year in Charlotte. Maybe next year I’ll be painting with you.” Noting that the Legion wasn’t just coming into her city for its convention and then leaving, Parker thanked the Legion for leaving a personal gift behind with the volunteer work done at DeGeorge. She said eradicating veterans homelessness in Houston is one of her top priorities. “All of us have a responsibility to the men and women who served,” she said. “It’s the neighborly thing to do.” Sears employs 30,000 veterans and has raised $18 million for veterans through its Heroes at Home program. “The American Legion, Rebuilding Together and Sears have partnered many times before,” said Sears Holding Corp’s Tom Aiello. “This type of partnership is a great model … for helping support our veterans in the future.” One of those veterans was pretty happy with the day’s event. “I think this is a great thing,” said 46-year-old Elias Perez, an Air Force veteran who has lived at DeGeorge for six years. “God bless them for doing this.”