City of Refuge sees veterans from Iraq & Afghanistan

When the City of Refuge in Vinton first started its homeless shelter for veterans 25 years ago, brother Burt Stigen says it was mainly for those who had served in the Viet Nam War and those who were suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

But now, Stigen says, they are seeing even more veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and struggling to meet their needs.  Stigen says they "never have enough for tomorrow but always have enough for today."

City of Refuge helps those with nowhere to go.  It's located in a rural area west of Vinton and is a homeless shelter not just for veterans--but run by veterans.

James served in the army. Life at City of Refuge here is in sharp contrast to what it was like on the street for his wife and their five year old son. "We'd see people buying dope, gunshots at night. That was a regular basis."

They've been at City of Refuge just three weeks.  Says James, "This place is a Godsend. If you need a place to get your heart and your head together this is the place to go."

Three times a day, those who stay here get a hot meal, and the way many see it-- a second chance at life.  "It doesn't do you any good to get off the streets if you're still going to tear your life apart."

Burt and Denise Stigen run the place. They get no government money because it's a faith based operation and they consider spiritual nourishment just as important as physical care. Says Burt, "It changes their stinkin' thinkin'. It changes their attitudes. It change their ideas and their morals."

He says they boast a success rate of 86 per cent compared with 13 per cent at a V.A. hospital. "Reporter: What do you consider a success? Burt: When a person is totally off drugs, totally off alcohol, gets a job, finds their own place to live."

Some will be here for several years, others just months or days. It started out as a place for Viet Nam vets with post traumatic stress disorder, but now--they will care for new generations of soldiers. Says Burt's wife, Denise, "It will be a constant thing. As the economy goes, we'll see even more. Burt: We depend totally on charitable donations from the community."

James, does masonry and hasn't been able to get work lately. City of Refuge is starting fund raising to build a new kitchen and dining area there.  Anyone who wants to help can contact the City of Refuge at 589-4407.

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