Introducing Christopher Hanson And The Veterans Assistance Foundation

President/CEO of the Veterans Assistance Foundation, Inc.

My name is Christopher Hanson.  I don't feel I'm particularly special, just a guy down the street.  I am a Madison native and a Wisconsin kid through and through.  For 8 years, I was the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau in Tomah.  I loved that job, but in early 2014 I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to come on as President/CEO of the Veterans Assistance Foundation, Inc. based in Tomah.  
The VAF was founded in 1994 by Robert Piaro to assist homeless veterans to find a way to get off the street and find a safe place to live. The organization began at Fort McCoy, moved to the King Veterans Home then ultimately to Tomah.  In the 22 years since its inception, the organization has grown to include 5 program sites around the state of Wisconsin, employment training and placement, and the newer Supportive Services for Veteran Families program that we run in 37 counties.  
Veteran homelessness is an ongoing national shame that many non-profit organizations like ours try to deal with each day.  It isn't something that is often talked about.  The subject seems almost taboo, like we are embarrassed to talk about it as a nation.  Well, we should be.  Thousands of Wisconsin veterans are either homeless or at risk of homelessness due to low income jobs and a lack of opportunities.  We try to help as many as we can each day.  
Veteran homelessness is a very complex issue to which there are no quick answers.  On a case-by-case basis, each homeless veteran has his or her own story as to why they are where they are.  Often it is due to substance abuse or mental health issues, or both with the same veteran.  More often than not, these issues are directly related to the veteran's military service.  
This last year, VAF expanded our footprint by purchasing apartment buildings in Tomah in order to provide affordable, clean low-income housing options to our veteran community in need.  In October, we took yet another leap and purchased the old Hardware Hank in downtown Tomah.  Perhaps you have even seen a story on Fox 25.  We plan on, and are on our way to developing the entire project into a veterans themed community center.  The downstairs will offer a coffee shop and thrift store, with all proceeds going back into the project to hire low-income veterans.  The upstairs offers 11 apartments that are in various states of remodeling. Once those are complete, we will be able to offer those to low-income veterans as well.  We were recently honored to receive a $100,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation in order to develop the apartments. 
Why am I writing this? Well, my story has taken a side trip since then.  One I will expand on in my next entry. Until then, have a great week!

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