Formerly homeless veterans need household items

Julio Gutierrez, director of the Project Amistad veterans’ project, works at his desk at Project Amistad in El Paso Feb. 5. Photo by Wendy Brown/ Fort Bliss Staff.

Julio Gutierrez, director of the Project Amistad veterans’ project, works at his desk at Project Amistad in El Paso Feb. 5. Photo by Wendy Brown/ Fort Bliss Staff.

By Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Bugle Staff:

Julio Gutierrez runs the Amistad for Veterans Project, and he knows from experience there are many homeless veterans who need help in El Paso.

“After 12 years of outreach and working with veterans in the last 14 years, I think we have between 200 to 250 homeless veterans at any given time in El Paso,” Gutierrez said. The Homeless Opportunity Center’s strategic plan puts the overall population of El Paso’s homeless at 1,400 on any given night.

Lately, Gutierrez, who helps veterans access a range of services, has been distributing household goods to formerly homeless veterans almost as quickly as he gets them. He has been so successful with housing placements, he has found himself scrambling to help formerly homeless veterans furnish their new homes.

Julio Gutierrez, director of the Project Amistad veterans’ project, checks the size of a donated pair of men’s pants at Project Amistad in El Paso Feb. 5.

Julio Gutierrez, director of the Project Amistad veterans’ project, checks the size of a donated pair of men’s pants at Project Amistad in El Paso Feb. 5.

“They walk in their new home, and there’s nothing in there,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a depressing feeling.”

Gutierrez said he is currently collecting items for veterans, and he plans to continue the drive for at least another month. People can drop items off at the Amistad offices located at 1359 Lomaland, El Paso.

In particular, Gutierrez said that in addition to couches, kitchen tables and beds, he needs clothing for large men.

Amistad, in El Paso since 1976, is a non-profit agency that serves the elderly, disabled adults and adults at risk. The agency helps with transportation, guardianship and social services. The Medical Transportation Program serves El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Brewster and Presidio counties.

Gutierrez said if a veteran is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression or other problems, having a home with a couch, kitchen table, television and basic kitchen items can help immensely.

Having a television can help take the veteran’s mind off problems, Gutierrez said, and a kitchen table, for example, relieves anxiety by ensuring that children are not eating on the floor.

Gutierrez said when space for furniture, clothes and kitchenware becomes scarce in his office at Project Amistad, he moves items to his garage at home. His wife is supportive of his efforts, he said.

Gutierrez is knowledgeable about the problems homeless veterans face not only through his outreach work, but because he was a homeless veteran once himself. He was also an Olympic-level wrestler and a member of the All Army Wrestling Team at the U.S. Military Academy, he said.

Gutierrez competed in the 1972 Olympics, but did not win any medals, he said. In the 1975 Pan American Games, however, he placed third.

Gutierrez was a member of the U.S. Army from 1979-1982, and competed on the All Army Wrestling Team in 1980, he said.

After a series of problems and leaving the Army, Gutierrez said he found himself living out of his car. One day he decided he needed to turn his life around, so he went back to college to complete a college degree he had almost finished before joining the Army.

“I had left when I was a senior, and there was no reason for me not to go back,” he said.

Since graduating, Gutierrez has worked to help people who are homeless. Formerly he worked at the Homeless Opportunity Center, and he has a wide range of contacts for nearly every service imaginable, he said.

For more information about Project Amistad or to arrange a donation, contact Gutierrez at 407-3223 or jugutierrez@projectamistad.org.

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