Florida organization empowers veterans in need

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COCOA, Fla. (AP) - Matthew Farnung knows substance abuse and homelessness.

Now the Navy veteran is preparing to use his experience and some training to help others overcome addictions and mental health issues that sometimes lead to homelessness.

Farnung is part of a group of veterans being trained in peer counseling, one of several programs that the Volunteers of America multi-service center offers to residents and others at Veterans Village, a transitional home for veterans.

“I’ve been through some of it,” he said as he sat in counselor/instructor David Wilkins’ classroom at the VOA center in Cocoa. “I had a substance abuse problem.”

Farnung, who also suffered from cancer, said he is drug free and is grateful for the help he has received. He now wants to complete the 40-hour course and move on to help others, whether at the village or elsewhere.

“I want to give back,” he said. “I can help them.”

David Johnson, a psychologist, directs health services for the veterans at the service center.

“There are only so many of us, so we’re empowering them to help each other,” he said.

Farnung, 61, a Navy veteran, has spent about a year at Veterans Village, a transitional apartment complex on Peachtree Street in Cocoa that can house 80 people who were homeless.

Residents can stay at the transitional home until they are ready to regain their independence or for up to two years.

“We don’t encourage that,” said Sylvester Jones, housing and property manager for the village.

Jones said that instead of staying that long, residents are urged to meet three goals toward independence - address any substance-abuse or mental health problems, find employment or be enrolled in school or a job-training program and find secure housing. The average stay is about 18 months, he said.

“Our successful discharge is over 82 percent,” Jones said. “That means they’ve met all three goals.”

David Scarborough, training and education manager for VOA, said while the programs look out first for the veterans at the village, it is also designed to help others.

“Our programs are all about veterans,” he said. “But we’re here for the community at large.”

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