HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County is home to one third of the state's homeless veteran population. Despite a number of non-profit shelters, there's still not enough help to serve those who need it.
Getting out of the service after years of structure and a steady paycheck can be debilitating. For some soldiers it leads to homelessness. Local resource centers reach out to these veterans and actively look to take them in. Two of these centers are ECHO (Eastern Carolina Homelessness Organization) and the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center in Little River.
Since January 2015 the Grand Strand's ECHO program has helped more than 650 veterans and their families get housing. While ECHO re-houses hundreds of veterans, a smaller program focuses on a few vets at a time. This well known veteran center is the Hutton House.
"It's been tough and they've been more than happy to help me with any kind of issues, and you know, anyone here without a shadow of a doubt would," Hutton House tenant James Gibson said.
Gibson has lived at the Hutton House since November of last year. He came home to Andrews, South Carolina after 14 years of military service. He expected a tough transition to civilian live, but he didn't expect PTSD and disaster. He wasn't home for a month before his family's home was destroyed by a fire during October's floods.
His family is renting space, but Gibson moved to the Hutton House to get back on his feet. He says he'd probably be on the street if it wasn't for the home. Instead of that, he's taking classes at Horry Georgetown Technical College, working and learning new life skills through Hutton House.
The center houses veterans who work to earn their stay until they have the resources to live back on their own. The home is about to have its one-year anniversary in July. Since then, the Hutton House has successfully graduated 10 Horry County veterans into their own homes. Seven veterans can live there at a time and there are spaces available now. Gibson lives with veteran Cory Kovahkka, who also struggles with PTSD. Unlike Gibson, Kovahkka has been at the home for one week. The home has given him something he couldn't find on his own.
"I'm excited...this is a stepping stone or me, I'm more excited to get out and find a new vehicle, find a place to live...so the next few months those are going to be my top priorities," Kovahkka said.
Hutton House screens those looking for help so veterans can live peacefully with a joint goal. Many turning to it have PTSD and learn to live with it. The Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center helps thousands of vets a year with budgeting, education, benefits and counseling services.
"The biggest thing I can say for veterans is to talk to people before you actually move to whatever state it is that you're moving to. That will...actually get the correct information for, say, sales tax, vehicle, whatever helps. And the other thing is to try to do your claim before you get out...it made it easier for me before I got out," Gibson advised.
Gibson plans to take his future college degree and fill the shoes of the current Veterans Home and Resource Center founder and director. He says he's been inspired to help others through finding help himself.
"The last thing we want is another homeless vet...that's what we're trying to prevent and trying to help."
The Kingstree Armory is holding a military job fair for veterans, families and the general public. It's from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, May 19. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans will hold Military Appreciation Day Saturday, May 21. Admission is free for military members and veterans, just bring your military I.D. to the box office.
Other military events will of course occur throughout the month of May during the biker events in the Grand Strand.