Freedom is NOT and NEVER free  
Someone fought for it
Mission: As the Rapid Response organization, always with integrity, we collaborate with people like you to impact and serve the lives of those who serve(d) us.
Reducing Homeless: 
Midwest Veterans Closet is reducing homelessness, improving quality of life, and giving dignity to our nation’s heroes; active duty, Veterans, dependents, and families. 
• In 2015 the request for food was great. Every day we were asked for food. So, we began soliciting organizations, corporations, stores and everyone we came in contact with to get some. Finally, in November, the Deerfield Peewee football organization headed by a female Navy Veteran collected over 100 shopping bags of food, good brand name items, which started our Food and Nutrition Resource Center. We were so moved by this community gesture which brought many families who shopped ‘their choice’ to tears.
• Along with food, we provided professional wear for women and men in our Career Closet which room-shared with the food; bedding, linens, housewares, weather appropriate clothing, shoes/boots, occasionally automobiles, toiletries, sleeping bags, tents, and furniture. We work closely with social workers at several Veterans Administration locations in Illinois and Wisconsin. While they usually find housing through the federal HUD program, they rely on Midwest Veterans Closet after that.


Dear AUSV Members and the Board of Governors,

I am writing with great honor and privilege to nominate Backpacks For Life, Inc. (“BFL”) for the Veteran Award of Distinction in the category of Veterans Homelessness.

As a member of this nonprofit organization, I have personally seen BFL exemplify a level of drive, innovation, and commitment to aiding homeless, low income, and at-risk veterans that is unparalleled by any other organization of this kind. Over the past four years, BFL has worked directly with veterans living on the streets and in shelters with one overarching goal in mind; to provide around the clock support and to ensure that veterans not only receive housing but also, an overall feeling of security in their well-being during the process. 

BFL provides a truly unique and personalized support system for homeless, low income, and at-risk veterans and their families that effectively bridges the gap between veterans and the resources available to them in three ways: finding/maintaining housing for low income and homeless veterans, coaching and mentoring homeless and/or at risk veterans, and regularly distributing backpacks filled with supplies and resources to homeless veterans.

Finding/Maintaining Housing for Low Income and Homeless Veterans

In September of 2017, BFL received a late-night phone call from a police officer in Linden, New Jersey. The officer informed the BFL team that a homeless veteran had been sleeping in an ATM vestibule for some time now and likely needed assistance. Without missing a beat, BFL sprang into action and drove to the location that the officer had provided. Upon arrival, the BFL team met a Vietnam Veteran named Bill. After some light conversation and trust building in the ATM vestibule, the BFL team was able to convince him to accompany them to a nearby Burger King where they spent the next few hours getting to know one another. BFL was then able to place him in a hotel for three nights while they searched for more permanent housing for him. During his time in the hotel, the BFL team contacted veteran organizations within their network and found people to spend time and eat meals with Bill with the hope that he would feel supported. In the end, BFL was able to secure him with the proper medical attention he needed and found him a home at the Valley Brook Village for Homeless Veterans in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. To this day BFL has kept in touch with Bill; reaching out via telephone, visiting his new apartment, and taking him out to dinner once every couple of months. He even joined the BFL team for dinner this Christmas Eve.

BFL has helped countless veterans like Bill in this manner. They utilize their network of veteran organizations to secure housing while simultaneously providing a personalized commitment to each individual veteran, e.g. ensuring that no meal is eaten alone. In this way, BFL is able to provide an overall feeling of security and well-being that is not only felt by the veterans BFL assists but by their spouses/families as well.
Coaching and Mentoring Homeless and/or at Risk Veterans to Prevent Homelessness

In December of 2017, BFL was contacted by a female veteran who had recently been laid off and was having trouble finding another job. A dedicated member of BFL’s team had someone available to meet with her that very same day and assessed her needs in a personalized one-on-one setting. At that meeting, BFL learned that she had a daughter and that they had been couch surfing for quite some time. Like many other veterans, she was also having trouble navigating and receiving care from the VA and needed guidance. BFL then succeeded in assisting her with the immediate need of securing an apartment. Along with the help of other passionate veteran organizations, BFL was able to rent her a U-Haul, provide support in the way of volunteers to help her move, and found a non-profit organization that provides housewares and furniture for veterans moving into permanent housing. This veteran soon found a job and was able to support herself. More importantly, she was able to provide a safe space for herself and her daughter without incurring mass amounts of debt in doing so. Once she was settled, BFL continued to support this veteran and quickly learned of her small business idea. She had an idea for an app that she had been working on for many years and was looking for guidance on how to make it a success. With the support and resources of BFL, she was able to collaborate with someone who provided her with free marketing assistance. By connecting this veteran with a marketing specialist, she was able to take her business idea one step closer to a reality. 

In addition to finding/maintaining housing for our homeless, low income, and at-risk veterans, BFL diligently works to bridge the gap between veterans and the resources available to their specific needs. Whether it be a suit, a cane, an HVAC installation, newborn assistance, or new tires, BFL works tirelessly to find the appropriate support. They do this in two ways: by compassionately working to overcome a veteran’s individual challenges as a team, and by connecting veterans with the extensive resources that are available to them that are within the BFL network. BFL works continuously to evolve and expand their connection base and adds new resources to their network weekly. 

BFL is truly a unique organization because they do not believe in a linear or one size fits all solution. Further, BFL believes in fostering self-reliance in the veterans they assist by upholding accountability standards while simultaneously providing their support. After a veteran’s most basic needs are met, BFL engages in helping them to develop a variety of skills. Ranging from necessary life skills, like how to manage a credit card or how to properly write a resume, to gaining employment in various industries. These skills translate into a career wherein the veteran is able to feel supported and capable. BFL works with various companies that have veteran hiring initiatives as well as employment companies that focus on finding work for those with military experience. The thought behind BFL’s process is that these resources will enhance each veteran’s quality of life and aid in preventing future homelessness.

Regularly Distributing Backpacks to Homeless Veterans

In addition to securing housing for veterans and the one-on-one support that BFL provides to homeless, low income, and at-risk veterans, BFL helps to meet the basic needs of thousands of homeless veterans a year through the distribution of their backpacks. To date, BFL has distributed over 5,500 backpacks to veterans in 13 states across the country. Each backpack includes quality, full sized toiletries as well as socks, gloves, hats, a travel pillow, a reusable water bottle, hand/body warmers, and most importantly, resource information. These items ensure that no matter what a veteran may be going through, they have the ability to remain as comfortable as possible during their time spent without a home. In addition to the standard issue backpack BFL donates to veterans in need, BFL distributes a backpack stocked with items that are often overlooked which cater more closely to the needs of the female veteran. Such as feminine hygiene products, make-up, hair products, and female-focused resources. 

One of the most common items BFL sees homeless veterans carrying is a backpack. For veterans who have nothing, the backpack tends to become their mobile home. And for some, their only belongings are stored inside. For BFL, it’s a symbol of hope. Which is why over the past year and a half, BFL has developed a one of a kind backpack specifically designed with the homeless veteran in mind. With great storage, water-resistant materials and shell, Anti-theft safety features, and a collapsible sleeping mat to help protect against hypothermia during colder months, this backpack will support most of the needs of a homeless veteran. BFL will be launching this backpack via a Kickstarter Campaign in hopes of gaining enough funding to make this project a reality. For each backpack purchased, one will be donated to a veteran. And in this way, BFL can continue to spread hope, security, and support to as many homeless veterans as possible. 


BFL works diligently to bridge the gap between homeless, low income, and at-risk veterans and the resources available to them in three ways: finding/maintaining housing for low income and homeless veterans, coaching and mentoring homeless and/or at risk veterans, and regularly distributing backpacks filled with supplies and resources to homeless veterans. 

BFL is truly a unique organization because they do not believe in a linear or one size fits all solution to the challenges a veteran is facing. They employ a two-step approach that involves compassionately working to overcome a veteran’s individual challenges as a team and by connecting veterans with the extensive resources that are available to them that are within the BFL network. BFL believes in fostering self-reliance while assisting veterans through their hardships and goes a step further than most organizations by providing veterans with the option to participate in mentorship programs wherein they learn essential skillsets like how to gain employment or even how to start their own business. Through this process, a veteran is able to feel supported, capable, and ultimately provides an overall feeling of security in their well-being. Most importantly, this process helps veterans provide for themselves and for their families which ultimately keeps them off of the streets and from bouncing from shelter to shelter.

All of which, is why I am writing with great honor and privilege to nominate Backpacks For Life, Inc. (“BFL”) for the Veteran Award of Distinction in the category of Veterans Homelessness. Thank you for your time and consideration. 

Very truly yours, 

Kara A. De Smet 


1) End Veteran Homelessness\u2028-Veterans Village

Through contributions and partnerships, VCP is creating Veterans Village; a specialized community of tiny-homes and onsite services that will provide housing stability and treat the underlying cause of the Veteran’s homelessness. The combination of housing stability and onsite services will lead to more successful permanent housing outcomes. Once ready, the Veteran will transition to other existing programs or permanent housing.

In contrast to traditional homeless services, a tiny-home provides the Veteran with privacy, a sense of security, and the ability to reintegrate at a comfortable pace. Veteran services are facilitated through an onsite community center that provides the Veterans with mentoring, case management, counseling, and linkage to other programs and services.

2) Never Say No to a Veteran in Need\u2028-Veteran Outreach Center

The Veterans Outreach Center provides services to all Veterans and operates as headquarters for Veterans Community Project. Veteran services include but are not limited to, immediate housing stability, employment counseling, resume writing and workshops, car/home repair, clothing, food, furniture, hygiene items, free legal services, counseling, and general advocacy.

Veterans Village
VCP has built a tiny home Veterans Village which will soon contain 49 tiny homes and a Community Center. With the help of the city of Kansas City, Veterans Village is one of the first tiny house communities to be zoned inside of city limits in the entire country. Each house is built according to code and connected to all city utilities. The first phase, with 13 tiny homes, was completed in January, 2018. Those 13 homes are currently occupied by Veteran residents. Phase two, which includes 13 additional homes, is now underway. The onsite Community Center, which will break ground this coming Fall, is dedicated to residents and will provide a platform for delivery of wraparound services. Case management, education, health/wellness, and fellowship opportunities will be offered in the Community Center. This continuum of services leads to improved health and stability for veterans.

Veteran Outreach Center
Since opening the Outreach Center on April 30th, 2017, more than 6,000 local Veterans have received a variety of services from VCP.  
To date, over 5,000 Veterans have received free bus passes through the "Veterans Ride Free" bus pass program, and over 1,000,000 rides have been tracked. This has been made possible through a partnership with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) and the AFL-CIO. 


Mission: Provide quality housing and supportive services to our Nation's Veterans experiencing homelessness.

2018 accomplishments: provided housing and supportive services to more than 100 Veterans and their family members in the Washington DC Metro area.

Worked with an assisted living company that has pledged to donate a vacant $4M, 52 unit facility to Operation Renewed Hope Foundation to house Veterans and their families. (Near Fort Belvoir, VA).

ORHF has directly assisted more than 700 Veterans and their family members since inception (December 2011). Led by an volunteer CEO, ORHF has a low overhead (well under 10%) and a 92%+ success rate defined as the Veteran and their family member still housed one year later. We reach Veterans through a variety of community resources: a call line (referred by the Dept of Veterans Affairs homeless hotline), outreach to transitional shelters, local support organizations, tent cities, and website contact lines. Our case managers go to the Veteran who may have challenging transportation needs.


We facilitate social change and empower our veterans and community providing transitional housing, enrichment programs, and counseling services to improve quality of life.

We are making history by being the first transitional housing facility in Houston County, GA to house our homeless female veterans.

We advocate on behalf o indivduals to assist in establising security, obtain employment, gain access to education, secure resources, and maintain physical and emotional health with a goal of helping homeless female veterans move towards self-sufficiency as productive members of society.