Lawton recognized for ‘I Count’
As part of the Dinges Awards Celebration on Thursday, the City of Lawton received a Distinguished Service Award recognizing Lawton-Fort Sill's support of the Homeless Veterans Outreach Campaign.
The award was presented to Lawton Mayor Pro Tem Doug Wells by Gus Rodriguez, Fourth Region President for the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). AUSA's Fourth Region covers the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Rodriguez said he's noticed that Lawton and Fort Sill are one community and he has accepted Lawton-Southwest Oklahoma's template for the "I Count" campaign as a model for the region.
Nate Slate, state president of AUSA, aspires for the local "I Count" to become a model for the national level of AUSA as well. Slate is not only chairman of the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce board this year but he has also chaired AUSA's Soldier/Family Council for several years. It was the Soldier/Family Council that put its backing behind the Southwest Oklahoma Continuum of Care in its efforts to do something about the problem of homelessness.
The first "I Count" in 2011 bore the theme "Leave No Fallen Comrade." Slate said that since then the number of homeless veterans in Southwest Oklahoma has been slashed by more than 80 percent and overall street homelessness in Lawton has been reduced by 50 percent.
Joe Gallagher, deputy to the commanding general of Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence, said "I Count" is in keeping with the Army's Soldier for Life initiative, the goal of which is to take care of soldiers from the time they're sworn in until they leave this world.
The Distinguished Service Award is a tribute to the city's effort to identify the homeless, and especially homeless veterans, and get them into a more stable living environment. That includes housing, employment, VA benefits, medical care, counseling and anything else they might need.
The city's support was particularly evident on Oct. 6 when, for the first time, the Southwest Oklahoma Continuum of Care and its community partners combined the "I Count" campaign with the Lawton-Southwest Oklahoma Stand Down. Five housing vouchers were set aside specifically for the Stand Down, so that homeless veterans who qualified for assistance could go directly into housing. The source of these vouchers was money that the city gets from Community Development Block Grants, which in turn are broken down into home funds and public service dollars. By 9:40 a.m. Oct. 6, recipients had been identified for all five vouchers.