Veterans Matter gets boost from ZZ TopWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
ZZ Top is throwing its clout and long beards behind Veterans Matter, a local nonprofit that aids unhoused veterans.
Veterans Matter provides rent deposits for veterans who are screened and aided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs Supported Housing Program (HUD-VASH). Most unhoused veterans don’t have the means to pay the deposit or first month’s rent upon moving into new homes, something required for HUD-VASH housing programs.
“This is such a beautiful, pure perfect program with 100 percent going to help people,” said Ken Leslie, founder of Veterans Matter and 1Matters.org, which also helps the unhoused.
ZZ Top will help with the nonprofit’s “60,000 Soldiers Housed” campaign, raising awareness for unhoused veterans. The campaign is named for the 60,000 unhoused veterans in the United States.
The group heard about the campaign through its publicist Bob Merlis, Leslie said.
“They happened to be in the area and things just evolved from there,” he added.
Merlis has known Leslie for a while and was eager to help when he was approached, he said.
“People who are in the armed forces risk their lives and they come back and are treated like dirt,” Merlis said.
Dusty Hill, who plays bass and sings for ZZ Top, made a video to support the “60,000 Soldiers Housed” campaign when the group was at a Michigan tour stop.
“It’s really disturbing that nowadays it has somehow become acceptable for American soldiers damaged by the physical or mental trauma of war to be abandoned, forgotten, and left homeless on the streets of our nation,” Hill said in a news release.
The band, known for hits like “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs,” will spread the word about unhoused veterans when it tours, Leslie said. He hopes this will inspire other cities to start programs like Veterans Matter.
The program started in February after a conversation between Leslie and Shawn Dowling, the coordinator of Healthcare for Homeless Veterans of the Ann Arbor VA Health System, about what was missing from housing programs. Leslie approached ProMedica for support and was granted $26,250 from the health care system’s Advocacy Fund.
Just 11 days after the project’s conception, a couple was able to move out of a shelter and into a home. Since February, Leslie said the nonprofit has helped 20 military families in 11 cities across the area.
“When we heard about [the program] we were most impressed. We appreciate that this program is not one of those feel-good virtual-fundraising-under-veterans’-names programs. They get in, get the job done and leave,” said Billy Gibbons, singer and guitarist for ZZ Top, in a news release. His band is set to release a new album, “La Futura,” in September.
“The entire band is behind this,” Leslie said of ZZ Top. “We view ourselves as a black ops mission helping soldiers down behind enemy lines.”