Father-daughter dynamic duo help to get 'vets on track' from homelessness

Created in 2013, the Vets on Track foundation have helped over 50 military veterans and first-responders find homes. Vets on Track is a federally certified 501(c)3 non-profit organization that advocates proactive community outreach.

Photo courtesy of Vets on Track Foundation

By Justin K. Thomas

August 10, 2017

In the small Virginian town of Garrisonville, near our nation’s capital of Washington D.C., a father-daughter team founded and continues to work tirelessly around the clock to help assist American veterans in finding suitable housing post military service with their nonprofit organization, Vets on Track Foundation.

“It has been just over a year since the Vets on Track Foundation helped its first veteran under its new mission,” said Richard Ecker, a retired U.S. Marine and founder. “Since July of 2016, my daughter and I are doing our best to help veterans. Vets on Track has furnished over 50 homes for veterans who were living in unfathomable conditions in the D.C. metro area, and we hope to continue.”

Mr. Ecker said that approximately 40,000 homeless veterans are living in the United States. Nevertheless, charities and organizations like Vets on Track have collaboratively reduced that number by 17 percent within the last two years and hope to double that number over time.

According to a study conducted by the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, helping homeless veterans attain housing increases the possibilities for them becoming more productive citizens. Single veterans and families headed by veterans afforded support beyond basic housing features such as furniture and accessories which the Vets on Track Foundation provides, had an 89 percent and 93 percent respective chance of not returning to a state of homelessness.

Brittany Cooke, Richard’s daughter, the organization’s co-founder and vice president of communications said that many of her friends and colleagues said that working with her father would be difficult, but she felt that participating in the enterprise of the Vets on Track Foundation was too important to pass up.

“People always told me it wasn’t a good idea to work with family, but my dad and I work really well together,” she said. “Obviously there will be times when my dad and I don’t agree, but we will ‘agree to disagree.’ However, even though I’ve never served in the military, our clients feel like family to me, and that brings me joy knowing that through our programs, we can give as many veterans a fresh start.”

The Vets on Track Foundation, through its Fresh Start Program, is committed to working with veterans and first responders who need support in getting their lives back on track. VOTF is committed to working to ensure that every veteran and first responder transitioning into permanent housing from living on the streets has the necessary furniture and household accessories to transform their new house into a “home.”

Cooke also stated that getting the message of their foundation out to the public is the most difficult aspect because overall timing is a critical factor in assisting homeless veterans.

“In order to make a difference, people have to know your organization exists and being a not-for-profit foundation, that is a big challenge,” she said. “That’s why it is so important that we make direct contact with veteran referrals as soon as possible. Before being placed into permanent housing, there is a high probability that a veteran could return to living on the streets, so it is imperative that we are responsive in assisting them as quickly as possible.”

Currently, the Vets on Track Foundation is working with numerous community partners to help veterans support in getting their lives back on track.

“Our duty is to ensure that veterans transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing have the necessary household goods to transform their new house into a ‘home,’” Cooke said. “And we are extremely grateful to be working with our associates such as The Friendship Place and America BBQ through our Fresh Start program make this a possibility.”

In addition to fresh starts, Ecker said that veterans should do everything within reason prior to leaving the military to help themselves avert potential problems such as homelessness.

“Every veteran needs to ensure they are financially stable before leaving the service,” he said. “Take every possible [transition] class to prepare you for the next chapter of life. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help if you feel as if you are beginning to slip through the cracks. It’s always easier to fix a problem early-on instead of waiting until there is no other option but move onto the streets.”

As to the future of the Vets on Track Foundation, Ecker said that they would continue to depend on the generosity of people of the United States so that they can provide the much-needed services for homeless American veterans throughout the nation.

“My daughter and I’s vision is to open satellite offices across the country,” said Ecker. “Presently, we are slowly starting to spread our ‘wings’ beyond Washington D.C. Our coverage area is now extending to the Hampton Roads region of Virginia and in and around Baltimore. We hope that we can truly decrease the number of homeless veterans to zero so that we can double our efforts and reach veterans in need—no matter where they live.”