Program pairs homeless vets with green jobs

Nelson: It makes me proud to see two great causes come together like this.


It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Eddie Williams Jr.’s life got off track.

It didn’t take the nose dive he says it easily could have as a kid hanging out on East St. Louis streets. But it never took off in the way he’d hoped after serving a stint in the Army and working for decades in various blue-collar jobs.

Today, at 55, he can be found most workdays preparing the grounds at the Missouri Botanical Garden for winter. He helped plant 55,000 tulip bulbs and is fastidious in removing leaves that have fallen into beds of the north gardens, where he works under the supervision of Jason Delaney.

"He’s a phenomenal worker," said Delaney, "and very jovial in nature. That really adds to his performance."

Williams got the temporary, full-time position through a program that pairs homeless, or near homeless, veterans with green jobs. The jobs are in landscaping or recycling.

The program is managed by St. Patrick Center and funded by a Department of Labor grant.

The program is in its second year, and 44 of the 78 vets who went through training have been placed in jobs. The first year, 45 of the 64 vets, mainly men, gained employment through the program.

Agencies that provide assistance to homeless vets find their task challenging. They are often dealing with men who have been in prison, have a history of substance abuse, are mentally ill, or a combination of the three.

Homeless veterans throughout the U.S. stand at about 67,000, accounting for 10 percent of the total homeless population.

In the city of St. Louis, about 12 percent of the 1,300 homeless are veterans.

The Obama administration has made it a goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015. National numbers released this month show a 12 percent decline in the number of homeless veterans this year compared to 2010.

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