In June of 2012, Veterans in Pierce, King, and Thurston Counties of Washington State began to discuss recurring issues of chronic homelessness, hunger, mental health, and support services. Especially impacting those who were military veterans.
Washington State has almost 90,000 active duty and Reservist military personnel, and about as many active-duty dependents. Washington State is also the home of over 535,000 veterans. There were increasing complaints about the lack of access to social services for veterans. We imagined there was an opportunity to guide our fellow veterans to those desired social services or provide those services directly.
In 2013, under the direction and guidance of Alfredo "Tito" Medina, Scot Pondalick, and Shawn Durnen, “The Veterans Resource Fair” was born. Green River College hosted our first event in their auditorium, which was attended by 150 veterans from the local area, and 25 service providers. Since then, The Veterans Resource Fair was a growing annual event.
The 2015 Veterans Resource Fair (VRF) was recognized by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as the #1 Stand Down Event on the West Coast. We were excited, honored, and humbled. And believed there was more work to be done. There was, and unfortunately still is, a lot of unmet need in the veteran community. That was when we decided to become an official non-profit organization.
Empowered by President Barack Obama’s commitment to end veteran homelessness by 2016, we pivoted many of the VRF’s services to address veteran homelessness, to include distribution of emergency supplies, clothing, food, medical and dental services, hygiene and personal care, and opportunities to connect with various service providers in the Puget Sound region, and abroad. To date, several thousands of veterans have attended VRF events, which are now held in the Tacoma Dome Convention Center. This event remains our “Labor of Love.” It is 100% supported by volunteers and sponsors and serves an average of over 1,000 veterans each event.
NineLine then expanded with Route Step Outdoors, a program focused on engaging veterans in outdoor natural settings. Managed by David Konkler and Fee Veary, Route Step Outdoor has coordinated many hiking and camping events where veterans can get together and socialize, reminisce, and share their stories without concern of judgement or reprisal.
NineLine added a Peer Support and Transition Program to our offered services with the intent of educating the community of veterans’ concerns, guiding service members through the college admissions process, and hosting public events with dynamic speakers.
We also partnered with Veteran Vision Fast. This program is a unique opportunity for veterans who are seeking long term solutions to PTSD and suicide ideation, serving as a "Ceremony of Return" for those looking for a way to reconnect with themselves, their place in the world, and their place in the community. This is currently open to all Washington State Veterans.
To get these programs into place, we entered a gracious partnership with Pierce and Thurston County government offices, who provided the funding and approvals needed to benefit our local veterans. We are forever grateful to our civic and local leaders for their thoughtful approach, guiding hand, and increased participation in the fight against veteran homelessness.
Shortly after incorporation, NineLine Directors believed the existing operating model needed to change. We primarily operated and serviced Pierce and Thurston Counties. King County, our neighbor to the north, was not on our immediate radar. This was despite an increased, and dramatically increasing, veteran presence in the county.
We immediately got to work expanding our Board and presence in King County. We connected and partnered with The Mission Continues and created a joint-task force to strategize, implement, and support a King County-wide push to end homelessness. This coincided with the Seattle’s first State of Emergency on homelessness.
Our partnerships expanded to include the following organizations and many, many others: