COOS BAY — For Patrick Wright, 38, a Marshfield graduate and former U.S. Marine of 14 years, hope comes in the form of action.
Wright’s local nonprofit, which he began with fellow Coos Bay native and former marine Kyle Brown, 26, Operation Rebuild Hope, aims to assist veterans once they leave the armed forces through building projects, community activism and providing a sense of purpose for those lacking one.
“When you get out, you don’t really have a path to go on,” Brown said. “In the military, we are given a path and instructions of where to go and when. But once you get out, it’s like ‘good luck you are on your own now’ and some kind of fall by the wayside.”
It’s a reality that many veterans face upon returning to civilian life and one that Wright has experienced first hand.
Upon completing his last tour of duty, Wright found himself in the middle of a lengthy custody battle amid marital problems.
“I was in Oceanside (California) when I got out,” he said. “I was practically homeless. I had no place to go.”
He said the recovery process was “slow going” but that changed once he gained full custody of his kids. “I was no longer just living for myself.”
After returning home, Wright sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“My house was seriously dilapidated and I really struggled to get it livable,” he said. “I asked the VA for assistance: grants, materials, even a gift card, but didn’t get anything from them. They just wouldn’t help me.”
The trying experience left a lasting impression on the veteran of three tours in Iraq.
“You just notice there’s a void in the system and I could either keep complaining about that void or decide to make a difference,” he said. “That’s where Operation Rebuild Hope started.”
The nonprofit’s mission is to provide homes, programs and services for veterans struggling to adjust to civilian life.
One goal in particular is to create a neighborhood of “micro” homes somewhere around Coos Bay, built for and by veterans.
“Homelessness is usually caused by something else like addiction or mental health issues,” Wright explained. “So for us, it’s housing first. That’s the first thing that needs to happen. It’s hard to battle drugs and addiction issues if you are already living out on the street.”
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Brown said they hoped to develop a multi-tiered system that focused on getting veterans access to proper healthcare, including mental, as well as creating an incentive program that focused on responsibility and community. "We're a Christian organization, so we really believe in giving back."
Wright and Brown said they wanted to establish the veterans homes in travel trailers first, then after a certain period of time, build “micro” homes before finally upgrading the veterans to a larger home crafted out of shipping containers.
“If I just got off the streets, I’m happy to have a trailer but as life gets better and I see a guy in this really nice “micro” home, I know the steps I need to take to get that,” Brown said, adding that he would like to see the area where the homes are built have a community center for the veterans to congregate.
Support for the nonprofit has been growing, according to Wright.
They’ve received a $2,500 grant from the Coos Bay-North Bend Rotary Club along with additional support from Farr’s Hardware and Oregon Coast Community Action.
But according to Wright and Brown, it’s not about the money.
“We need to gain more financial support but equally important is raising awareness and getting help from the community,” Wright said.
That assistance can come in the form of a helping hand on one of the nonprofit’s construction sites or, for instance, fixing up a 1958 Ford Van to travel to those sites.
The organization has restored leaky roofs, cleaned trashed yards and fixed-up broken down houses.
"We've been to hell and back," Brown said. "There's no house in no condition that could scare us."
And while the nonprofit focuses on fixing up veterans homes and helping them access health care, it’s mission is broad in scope.
“Even if they just need someone to help mow their yard or talk, that’s what we are here for,” Brown said.
In the end, Wright said, Operation Rebuild Hope is about personal recovery.
“It’s the healing through service,” he said. “We get these vets hurting for one reason or another and bring them to these build sites and just being around other vets and having that brotherhood and sisterhood again really heals the heart and mind; just doing that can save a life.”