Veterans struggling with addiction, homelessness, and past trauma can qualify for a faith-based program in Tustin, California, where they will receive top-quality care, shelter, and resources for free.
The Tustin Veterans Outpost, a facility run by the Christian-based nonprofit Orange County Rescue Mission, opened its doors in 2016.
With housing for up to 71 veterans and their families, it has newly renovated one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, a fitness center, community room, on-site staff, and other services such as a wide variety of mental health therapy.
Since opening, the program has helped hundreds of veterans thanks to private donations.
Derrick Burton, who is a mentor, pastor, teacher, and program director for the non-profit’s programs, told The Epoch Times he lives by two rules when it comes to the program.
“I want to make sure that all our facilities are beautiful and that everybody we serve is treated with dignity,” he said.
The nonprofit additionally operates other locations for homeless men, women, and children, women escaping human trafficking, and teens on the verge of homelessness.
“We wanted to create a campus-like environment for everyone, including the veterans, so when they come in they’re not coming in with the stigma of going to a homeless shelter,” he said.
Participants go through four phases during the 18-to-24-month program at the Veterans Outpost, beginning as freshmen and advancing their way through sophomores, juniors, and seniors before graduation.
Once a participant reaches their junior year, they’re able to take free training classes for becoming medical and administrative assistants or dental technicians, or for culinary school, accounting, working on heating and ventilation systems, and more.
One woman who came to the program from the streets of downtown Los Angeles’s Skid Row turned her life around, Burton said, and is now running a kitchen for a television production company in Hollywood.
“She never even had a desire to cook or anything. Then she came to us, and she started volunteering in the kitchen and she fell in love with it, so then we were able to send her to culinary school,” he said.
Matthew Twist, a veteran who served for two years in the Army in the 1980s, told The Epoch Times he was homeless for three and a half years before he heard about the nonprofit.
“I was homeless … in the flood control channels of Garden Grove,” he said.
He said his drug dealer one day advised him to check out the Rescue Mission, which is where he found out about the Veterans Outpost.
“So, I rode my bike right there, walked in, and the Holy Spirit was so thick … it was crazy to me,” he said. “I made the decision right there that day to go to the Rescue Mission.”
Twist was in the program for 18 months before graduating. He said when he joined he didn’t plan on sticking it through until the end, but “when you have your true encounter with Christ, it will change you,” he said.
Although he couldn’t pinpoint just one encounter that was most significant, he said he felt Christ working through the mentorship and leadership of the staff and faculty around him and he was able to completely turn himself around.
“Once I found Jesus he just did everything in this program for me, and still does everything for me,” he said. “I took off like a rocket once I got serious.”
As he was about to graduate and exit the program, Twist was offered a position working for the Outpost as a resident advisor living on campus. After four years he was promoted to a veterans case manager.
“I feel like having gone through the program I can really minister and pour into people because I’ve been through it,” he said.
But he said most importantly he’s able to be a vessel of God’s word to new students and give them the second chance he was given.
Because of traumatic experiences war veterans may have from PTSD, the program offers many forms of therapy, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing—better known as EMDR—which helps process traumatic memories, cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and group therapy, to name a few.
What also has been proven to be instrumental is financial management, with volunteers from the banking industry assisting veterans to manage their finances, according to Burton, the program’s director.
“They meet with veterans on a monthly basis to help them establish and maintain a budget,” he said.
According to Burton, the nonprofit recently acquired a 30-acre ranch in Silverado Canyon, in the mountains East of Tustin, and is looking to expand there with animal therapy for veterans.
“We will have horses, goats, chickens, pigs, and all the animals that would be on a farm,” he said.
On Memorial Day, veterans at the Outpost will have the option to attend a celebration at Veterans Sports Park in Tustin, where a 21-gun salute in recognition of those who have served and other activities will be held in their honor.