A 30-year-old charity that’s helped thousands of struggling veterans obtain steady employment and stable housing is on the brink of closing for good due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the non-profit’s leadership.
“All things being equal, we won’t survive until the end of September,” said Damon Hunt, operations manager of the Veterans Independent Enterprises of Washington (VIEW), based in University Place.
The VIEW operates a warehouse where veterans package products, do assembly work, as well as move and store product for local businesses. Boeing is its biggest customer, but since the coronavirus pandemic, orders from the aerospace giant have greatly diminished.
“We love working with Boeing and for Boeing. But the simple fact is there’s just not enough work to do. They aren’t able to give us enough work to (keep open),” said Hunt.
He said the operation is losing $10,000 per month and does not have the reserves to keep going without securing new business.
“If someone could provide us a warehouse to work from and someone could provide us work to do, these guys are up to the challenge and they will perform.”
The VIEW was at the center of a 2019 investigation by KING 5 that exposed how former VIEW manager, Rosemary Hibbler, funneled thousands of dollars away from the charity for her personal gain.
Bank and court records obtained by KING 5 revealed that Hibbler spent money, which was meant to help veterans, on gambling in local casinos, paying her personal IRS debts, her personal rent and other expenses.
During the same time, veterans working for the VIEW often went without paychecks for weeks at a time.
The KING 5 investigation revealed this wasn't the first charity to fall victim to Hibbler.
Hibbler has denied any wrongdoing.
A Pierce County Superior Court judge authorized new leadership ten months ago. Since that time, veterans employed by the VIEW said the organization saw a complete turnaround – people were paid in full, on time, and morale greatly improved.
“We, as a team, have been fighting to keep this place going for so long,” said Army veteran Scott Schulz of Fife. Schulz has worked at the VIEW for 25 years, longer than any other person.
“Me and the veterans that work here have been through so much and these veterans stood tall,” Schulz said. “(And now) we are in dire straits.”
The non-profit also owns four homes in Tacoma that provide essential housing for veterans.
“It’s crucial that we save it. Because the VIEW not only provides work for previously homeless people, but also homes,” Hunt said. “This sustains people, human beings, this sustains these veterans.”
Shultz, who’s nearly 60 years old, is worried he may be forced onto the streets. He supports himself and three family members.
“It’s pretty scary. I could be facing homelessness; me and my daughter and my granddaughters.” said Shultz. “Over the last couple of years, not knowing when we were going to get paid, or if we were going to get paid, it’s zapped everybody’s savings.”
Click here if you or someone you know could offer work to the VIEW or if you want more information on how to help.
“That’s my prayer, that the telephone rings,” manager Damon Hunt said. “These guys deserve it. They’ve worked hard, they’ve served their country, and they need a chance.”