Electrolux, nonprofits partner to furnish veterans’ homes

In the Army, Levern Smith was a nuclear biological chemical warfare specialist. As a civilian, he’s finding it tough to get steady work as a security guard.

Such are the employment ironies facing service personnel after they leave the military, which explains why Smith, 52, spent the past year living at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.

Smith’s life changed for the better two weeks ago, when he moved into an apartment with the help of local nonprofits. It’s currently furnished with a kitchen table and some chairs, but Electrolux North America has stepped in to help.

The Charlotte-based appliance maker is providing full sets of kitchen appliances – stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave – to 25 households, with veterans considered first in line. The gift has a total value of about $50,000, company officials said.

Crisis Assistance Ministry is distributing the appliances through its Furniture Bank, which is also going to provide Smith with the rest of what he needs to furnish his apartment.

“I am so appreciative,” said Smith, a father of six who says he ended up homeless after separating from his wife.

“I was real gung-ho during my time in the service, willing to sacrifice anything. And it feels like the community is doing more these days to recognize us for our service and sacrifice. It makes me hopeful.”

Electrolux came forward with the idea of helping local vets after learning some landlords require people who are homeless to have appliances before they can move into a subsidized apartment.

“We saw that as an area where we could make a difference,” said Leslie McCray, director of community relations for Electrolux. “We know veterans face special challenges when they come home, in things like finding affordable housing, and we felt we could strike a blow for that.”

In 2013, Electrolux donated more than $550,000 in products such as air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers, vacuums and stoves to local organizations. The difference this time, McCray said, is that veterans are being singled out.

Tovi Martin of Crisis Assistance Ministry said the bulk of the 25 kitchen suites will be delivered to the Furniture Bank Tuesday, and seven sets have already been allotted for households headed by veterans. The agency said the remainder will be distributed as opportunities arise, with veterans getting first preference.

The Furniture Bank provides essential furnishings to about 100 families each month, most of them referred by other nonprofits, including the Men’s Shelter and Salvation Army Center of Hope, a shelter for women and children.

Smith got out of the Men’s Shelter through a combination of programs, including an apartment provided by Builders of Hope. The latter is a Raleigh-based nonprofit that buys and renovates duplexes and apartments for use as affordable housing.

Builders of Hope is part of a growing effort to move homeless veterans out of shelters and into housing more quickly.

The Salvation Army Center of Hope has 26 beds set aside for veterans and their families in need of housing. And the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte reports 10 percent of the hundreds staying at the shelter are veterans. Men’s Shelter housing programs have moved 52 vets into housing this fiscal year with the help of federal rent subsidies.

Like Smith, most arrived in their new homes without a stick of furniture.

“I’m still looking for a job, but at least I have an address now to put on my job applications, which had been a problem for some employers,” Smith said. “And I have a stove to cook my grandchildren a meal, which is something to celebrate.”