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Veterans at risk of homelessness are serving as street ambassadors in Indianapolis

The Vetworks program is helping prepare veterans for permanent employment
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Posted at 10:37 PM, Jun 08, 2023

INDIANAPOLIS — Veterans experiencing homelessness, or those who are at risk of homelessness, are gaining job experience by beautifying and cleaning downtown Indianapolis.

Street ambassadors work with Downtown Indy Inc. as part of phase one of the Helping Veterans and Families (HVAF) Vetworks program.

"I was three days away from being homeless. I didn't know where I was going to stay, didn't know where my next meal was going to come from," Rich Beckey said.

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Rich Beckey shares his story with WRTV Anchor Nicole Griffin

Beckey says he was financially well off, but hit some hardships last summer.

"Everything just crumbled so quickly. I couldn't get my arms around it fast enough to make it slow down," Beckey said.

He enrolled in Vetworks in August 2022.

"It's been a life changer ever since," Beckey said.

Vetworks is a three-phase program. The goal is to help veterans become self sufficient and secure permanent employment. HVAF is launching into year three of the workforce development program.

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Since its launch in 2021, HVAF says 68 veterans have participated and 27 have completed all three phases. Veterans who have completed the program now earn an average wage of $22.80 per hour.

Phase one includes a 12-week internship with HVAF or Downtown Indy Inc.

"The Downtown Indy placement is really great because they can earn an income while practicing those soft skills that we practice and touch on in phase one," Kiara Walker, Director of Veteran Workforce Development of Indiana, said.

Downtown Indy Inc. street ambassadors are responsible for cleaning sidewalks, picking up trash and acting as an ambassador to those visiting downtown Indianapolis.

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"They really have become the face of our organization," Tim Boruff, VP of Finance and Operations for Downtown Indy Inc., said. "I think people in our community see how impactful these great veterans are. They see those yellow coats or shirts. They're making a true impact in terms of our downtown."

In the post-pandemic era, Boruff says there is a lot more traffic, especially pedestrian traffic, downtown.

"It's important that we provide a good quality experience for people that come downtown, many for the first time since the pandemic. Providing a clean, safe street is very important so that people will come back," Boruff said.

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Phase two of the Vetworks program focuses on education. Funding is available to help veterans earn certifications.

Phase three is all about securing a job.

"The impact is so incredible," Walker said. "It's giving back hope to veterans."

As for Beckey, he's now the supervisor for the street ambassadors at Downtown Indy Inc.

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"I'm in such a better place. I'm happy. I can live for me now. I'm not worried about where my next meal is going to come from or if I'm going to have a roof over my head. It's been a life changer," Beckey said.

If you are interested in getting involved, reach out to HVAF and ask for employment assistance.