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GIVING HOMELESS VETS NEW HOPE

Life after service in the U.S. Navy was not kind to Kevin Odell.

He held a series of dead-end and temporary jobs. By the time he applied for the Veterans Reintegration Program in Buffalo, he was homeless -- without even a car to sleep in. He was, in homeless parlance -- "without keys."

However, Odell never gave up hope, and today he says he's on his way to realizing his dream.

Odell's dream is to go to college and get a nursing degree. He had some experience in health care during his Navy years and liked it. The career also appealed to him because it looked like there were opportunities for jobs with decent pay. According to the New York State Nurses Association, demand for registered nurses will outpace the supply of trained professionals by up to 20 percent.

Through the Veterans Reintegration Program, Odell obtained computer training and was accepted into a local nursing program. He was also hired at an area call center as an interviewer.

"There's still a great deal of work ahead of him, but he's on the road to success," says Steven Wagner, representative of Goodwill Industries of Western New York, which sponsors the program.

With the help of his counselor, Donna Haefner, Odell found a home. After occupational counseling, he also got an assist preparing his resume and with the college enrollment process.

"Kevin also needed a job so that he could support himself while going to school," Wagner recalled. He picked up his computer skills at the Goodwill Technical Training Center. Even his transportation was planned for, so he could keep his appointments during the training and enrollment processes. In addition, Haefner pursued job placement efforts for him.

Since the end of the first war with Iraq, many homeless veterans have turned up in Erie County, according to one study.

Though they tend to be better educated than other homeless people in the Buffalo area, they stay on the street almost twice as long as nonveterans. Many have had to choose between food and housing. Most have had honorable discharges.

Kevin Odell is one of many homeless vets who have found housing and jobs over the past year or so through this program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

"The need for these services is very high," observes Robert Haenggi, Goodwill vice president of Human Services. "Training, remedial education, counseling and placement programs enable these men and women to get their lives on track. This benefits them and their families directly, and it improves the quality of life for everyone in the region."

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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