"People are that kind?"

Shining a Light

In the fall of 2018, Phil, a former airman in the U.S. Air Force at the Hill Air Force Base in Utah, confronted the possibility of being evicted. It would have forced him, his wife, Amy, and their two children to leave their home in San Diego, a city they’d grown to love over the past decade, and start over.

“I just didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Phil shares. “My wife and I, we were both concerned. … It felt bad. It did.”

After Phil was laid off from his job, he started working for Uber to make ends meet and supplement his wife's full-time income. It was enough until a car accident cost him another job and pushed his family another step back. When his wife had a medical emergency that forced her out of work as well, the situation became dire.

While Phil didn’t want to ask for help from the Veterans Affair Supportive Housing program because he believed “there were veterans worse off” than him, his caseworker at VASH told him this was a chance for his family to get caught up.

Phil pushed aside his pride and asked what his options were. That's when he learned about the Elks Veterans Emergency Assistance Fund, a program that allows veterans to apply for up to $2,500 of assistance if they live in one of the eight cities targeted by the V.A. as having the highest need: Chicago, D.C., Loma Linda, Los Angeles, Miami-Dade, New York, San Diego, and Seattle. He couldn't believe the program existed.

“People are that kind?” Phil asked.

He applied for and received enough relief to pay off his back rent and get ahead through the year. A little assistance at the right time gave his family a chance to start fresh.

“You extended a hand through this program and lifted us up through the mud and mire,” Phil says. “We were able to stand on our feet again.”

Not only did the monetary relief save Phil's family from eviction and possible homelessness, but it also saved the holidays. While Phil and his wife always did what they could for their two kids during the holidays, Phil recounted that, one year, he cried on Christmas Day because they couldn't get gifts for their kids. Because of the emergency assistance, this Christmas was different. This was the first time in five years that they weren't behind on bills during the holidays.

“This year, you guys have given us a bigger gift than you could imagine,” Phil says. “We haven’t felt this good in years.”

The Emergency Assistance Fund also gifted Phil and his wife peace of mind. They’re no longer carrying the weight of debt on their shoulders.

“As our financial situation improves and Phil has a job again, we have peace of mind knowing that we can focus on staying current with our rent and getting other bills paid,” Amy says.

Phil and Amy now have breathing room to look ahead. With the financial burden lifted off their relationship, they’re setting and working toward life goals together. They aim to save enough money to buy a home they can call their own and to send their sons to college. Phil and Amy have faith in each other, and they have faith in what’s to come.

“We all get a little down at times,” Phil shares, “but it’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and that one hope, that can take someone across the finish line or lift someone out of a situation they can’t see themselves getting out of.”

The Emergency Assistance Fund was that light for Phil and for thousands of other vets like him. Since 2015, the Elks have been on a mission to end veteran homelessness, and the Elks National Foundation has backed that mission with a $4 million grant.

“As a vet who served my country, I love that people like the Elks exist to try to help vets, like myself and other vets, stand on our feet again,” Phil says. “Because you never want to go back to being in that position.”

Now that Phil and his wife are back to working full time, they can focus on their family. Phil wants other veterans to know that it’s okay to push aside their pride and ask for support because “there are people who are willing to reach out and help you.” Phil hopes to see the Emergency Assistance Fund program continue, and he anticipates donating to it himself one day.

“You don’t know who you’re helping make it to the next paycheck or the next bill,” Phil says. “It’s a worthy organization that helps veterans and helps people who are honestly trying to make it and trying to do their best.”

Want to hear Phil share his story? Listen to Midday, Episode 50: The End of the Tunnel to hear him speak with Debbie and Mary Morgan about his family, the Elks and the Emergency Assistance Fund.

Read more stories from the Be the Spark series about other veterans who've received assistance through the Emergency Assistance Fund here.

Since July 2015, the Elks National Foundation has contributed $4 million to help end veteran homelessness. The money funds the Elks National Veterans Service Commission's Welcome Home initiative, which includes an Emergency Assistance Fund for veterans in eight metropolitan areas targeted by the V.A. for increased focus by the Elks. To date, the Elks have helped more than 1,350 veterans exit or avoid homelessness through emergency assistance. Learn more at enf.elks.org/WelcomeHome.

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