Bill Ward woke up on a cold Tuesday morning inside his apartment in Sharpsburg.
It was warm.
The Army veteran spent the last two winters homeless, sleeping in an unheated hunting cabin near Wheeling, W.Va.
His oatmeal would go cold in a matter of minutes.
“It would be 6 below in my living room,” Ward, 60, said. “Summers were beautiful, but winter was brutal.”
Ward blew out both his knees four years ago and has been out of work and mostly homeless since. A friend let him stay in the cabin, and Ward held out hope that he soon could find work and a house.
An onset of vertigo a year ago dimmed his optimism until the Pittsburgh Rapid Results Veterans’ Homeless Boot Camp became involved in August, eventually finding Ward an apartment in Sharpsburg. He finished moving in Monday.
“It just worked. I’m not sure how it worked, but it just worked,” Ward said.
Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced Tuesday that Ward was one of the 123 homeless veterans for whom the boot camp and a task force of federal, county and city agencies helped find housing during its first 100 days. Unfortunately, they said, more than 500 veterans in Pittsburgh remain homeless, according to an analysis by Veterans Affairs.
“We don’t want anyone to be homeless, but particularly veterans,” Fitzgerald said.
During a Hiring Our Heroes forum Downtown, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development joined with the federal departments of Defense, Energy, Labor and the VA to connect veterans with energy and manufacturing jobs in the region. The forum will continue Wednesday with a job fair at Heinz Field.
In 2009, President Obama announced the goal of ending homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of homeless vets dropped 33 percent, from about 75,000 to less than 50,000, according to the VA. In June, first lady Michelle Obama challenged mayors to help.
Pittsburgh and Allegheny County responded by establishing the boot camp Aug. 8 and bringing together several agencies including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the VA, city and county housing authorities and the county’s Department of Human Services. The task force identified homeless vets and made services more accessible.
“It is our duty to serve those who have served our country,” said Jesse Rodriguez, operations director of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, who led the task force.
Rodriguez said the task force wants to expand the services and organizations. He hopes to start working with employers to find veterans stable jobs.
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.