Cascade Views Podcast

Erik Tobiason - Hope for Our Homeless Veterans

May 26, 2022 Michael Sipe - Central Oregon Leadership Discussions
Cascade Views Podcast
Erik Tobiason - Hope for Our Homeless Veterans
Show Notes Transcript

Erik Tobiason began his career in the financial services industry with Morgan Stanley as a financial advisor and senior portfolio manager. In 2016, he made the decision to move his business to RBC Wealth Management. 

Erik is also the creator of two non-profits, Bend Heroes Foundation, which focuses on helping veterans in Bend.

Erik started the Bend Heroes Foundation nearly 13 years ago with his father, a Purple Heart veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, with the goal of supporting and giving back to local veterans. Over the last few years, Erik led the creation of a transitional community of 15 tiny homes for homeless veterans called the Central Oregon Veterans Village which will be our topic of discussion today.

Unknown Speaker  0:08  
I do think, you know, veterans, you know, they have more challenges than the average citizen, some may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. And, you know, other other, you know, perhaps combat related issues that that make it harder to, you know, get work to, you know, apply for benefits to receive benefits. Cuz I think in general, you know, veterans have a tougher go of it than the average citizen.

Narrator  0:38  
Welcome to cascade views a discussion with Central Oregon leaders. Your host is Michael SIPE, local business and community leader Best Selling Author of the Avada principle and candidate for Oregon State Representative for House District 53, which encompasses southern Redman sisters tremolo in northern bend. The purpose of these discussions is to share the views and insights of local leaders from a variety of community sectors on a range of timely and important regional and state issues. With that now, here's your host, Michael SIPE.

Michael Sipe  1:13  
Thanks for joining us on cascade views. This is Michael SIPE, and I'm excited to welcome my friend Eric to bison to the show today. Eric B began his career in the financial services industry. With Morgan Stanley as a financial advisor and Senior Portfolio Manager in 2016. He made the decision to move his business to RBC Wealth Management. Eric is also the creator of a couple of nonprofits, one of which has been heroes Foundation, which focuses on helping veterans in band. Eric started the band heroes foundation nearly 13 years ago with his father, a Purple Heart veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, with a goal of supporting and giving back to local veterans. Over the last few years, Eric led the creation of a transitional community of 15 tiny homes for homeless veterans called the central Oregon's veteran's village, which will be the topic of our discussion today. I believe like me, you're gonna really enjoy hearing about the village. So with that, it's my pleasure to welcome Eric Tobias into the show. Hi, Eric.

Unknown Speaker  2:13  
Hey, Mike. Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Michael Sipe  2:17  
You bet. Well, I'm looking forward to talking about the main topic today. But before we do, how about sharing just a little bit about yourself? And what sparked your desire to create bend heroes Foundation? And what's the foundation been going going through and doing over the last 13 years or so prior to the veteran's village project?

Unknown Speaker  2:36  
Well, thanks for asking. Yeah. So about 13 years ago, I moved to bend and my dad and Bob Maxwell. And that's of Honor recipient, we're building the bend heroes Memorial down on the river at the Veterans Memorial Bridge there on Newport Street. And, you know, I come from a corporate background and dad and Bob were kind of doing this solo. And I said, Hey, Dad, you know, we can, you know, if we organize this and maybe get some some management and some volunteer coordination, perhaps a nonprofit structure around us, I think we can kind of leverage, you know, your efforts, because as you know, he's extraordinarily active in the veterans community. And I thought, hey, you know, we could be magnify and amplify his efforts if we put together the nonprofit. So after completing the memorial, you know, we got our 501 C three status from the IRS. And, yeah, lots of different programs over the years. The first one, after we got our nonprofit status was the world war two historic Highway and Highway 97. With those 10 or so training sites for World War Two, that happened out here in Eastern Oregon, Eastern and Central Oregon, and we wanted to just bring some attention to that educate the public. And, you know, we put that program together. After that, because of the World War Two connection, you know, we became a hub of the international program called the national program of Honor Flight, which takes World War Two veterans back to Washington, DC. So I think seven or eight years we did that, something like 13 or 14 trips, 550 veterans from all east of the Cascades. We took them back showed on the World War Two Memorial and some other sites in DC thanking him for their service. It's the greatest generation, you know, it's a great, great group of folks really impressive, you know, to be with them and work with them. And so we did that for a long time. And then a bunch more highway designations in the state. Pow Mia highway Medal of Honor highway. You name it. It just really to bring attention to veterans and, you know, let let the public know that they're here with us and you know, give them our gratitude. And that just took us till about three years ago. And then we were kind of idle. And then ultimately, after about a year of, of kicking the tires and trying to figure out something to do, we came across the idea of the village.

Michael Sipe  5:14  
Yeah, I remember from our time in Rotary, all those years, you headed back to the Honor Flight Deal. What a cool, cool thing. Your dad really is incredible. And Bob Maxwell, one gentleman has just an incredible model citizen. Great man. He really really was. Yeah, so Well, this is is really inspiring. I did a little research, though. And 8.8% of the homeless in Central Oregon, I understand, are veterans in 2021? What do you think the cause of that is?

Unknown Speaker  5:51  
Well, the general population of veterans in Central Oregon is about 7% of our population of our population based on most recent census data. So, you know, that's pretty close to the, you know, the general population. And I do think, you know, veterans, you know, they have more challenges than the average citizen, some may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress, and, you know, other other, you know, perhaps combat related issues that, that make it harder to, you know, get work to, you know, apply for benefits to receive benefits. So, I think, in general, you know, veterans have a tougher goal than the average citizen.

Michael Sipe  6:37  
Sure, what was that the impetus for the Central Oregon veteran's village? Tell us a little bit about the village and the idea behind it?

Unknown Speaker  6:46  
Well, yeah, and, you know, we got the idea off the ground in early 19. That's when sort of coalesced the organization, we had also been looking at Veterans suicide as a major issue. You know, it's, it's very, very tragic. But we decided we didn't really have, you know, the skill set to, to, to go in that direction. But we had heard about other cities, you know, building veteran's villages, one in Kansas City, and another one in Clackamas County. And, you know, they were having success. And so we thought, hey, you know, here's, here's a very, very important cause for veterans, you know, homelessness, you know, these are the folks that need the most help in our society. You know, how do we how do we get them into a program that's going to give them accessibility to health care, perhaps mental health treatments, maybe substance abuse, job training, you know, there's a lot of, there's a lot of services out there. Not necessarily connected to the homeless, but but available. But we just thought this was a great collaboration, possibility with with Covo, a service provider that works with the homeless veterans and bend heroes Foundation, which is, you know, experienced in working with the elected officials and the state level and we thought, hey, what a great opportunity to to work together to solve this important cause.

Michael Sipe  8:21  
I've been out to the village it's really incredible. Actually, if, if our listeners could see you, I think you're in one of the housing units right now. Right, one of the cabins I am Yeah, I thought it

Unknown Speaker  8:33  
was gonna be video, I could do a quick tour of one of our cabins, but I'm gonna give a virtual tour. It's 12 by 12. So 144 square feet with a bathroom a sink, and a toilet and a sink and a bed and a table for two. It's heated, insulated. You know, got standard roofing, nice deck out out front. So it really is, is a nice and nice unit for, you know, for housing, our veterans.

Michael Sipe  9:06  
It's first class, and then there's a common area, right?

Unknown Speaker  9:10  
That's right, yeah, we have a community building. So that's where the shower is our laundry, kitchen, eating facility, community area to watch TV or play cards or just hang out, be social, you know, get together because we'd rather have the veterans you know, working together, being together socially then, you know, just off in their housing unit alone. But most importantly, we have offices there that are staffed full time by case management. And these provide these case manager provide the wraparound services that I just spoke about earlier with helping the veterans with resumes or gaining employment or getting health care benefits at applying to the VA. You know, all sorts of great capabilities that Connect are veterans with

Michael Sipe  10:04  
what a great resource. Tell us a little bit about the process of getting it established? How much money did it take? And what were some of the steps it took to get the project actually built?

Unknown Speaker  10:15  
Well, yeah, it was, it was a little slow going at the beginning. Because, you know, generally, our community and most communities don't really have the zoning laws to allow for something like this kind of development. And so we set about working with the city and the county to understand, you know, what the, what the lay of the land was in terms of requirements and feasibilities, you know, finding the right property. But ultimately, you know, what, really connected all the dots for us was the passage of House Bill 4212, which Sherry help amended with the emergency shelter, coding, to allow us to do this development and kind of supersede, you know, the city of Ben's development code and zoning rules. And so that was that was huge. A lot of a lot of red tape would have would have taken a lot longer if we had not had House Bill 4212. You know, fairly high costs. I think, you know, if you include all of the potential costs, it was about a million dollars. A good chunk of that, a couple 100,000 was system development charges which the city and Parks and Rec district waived for us. So that was that was a mitigated cost, not a cash cost. But yeah, lumber was expensive, we acquired most of our lumber before the massive lumber increase. And community building was pre manufactured for us. And we got that at about $80 a square foot, which is just incredible compared to, you know, we'd have to pay today. So you really had some some providential timing and all of this and some providential intervention to bring it all together.

Michael Sipe  11:59  
What a journey. Well, how's the village going to be managed going forward? You talked about case managers, and Kobo, and how's that all fit together?

Unknown Speaker  12:07  
Yeah, well, that's the most important part. You know, if you listen to the public feedback about homelessness, in our town, there's a lot of misconceptions about, you know, homelessness, and you know, what the stereotypical homeless person is, you know, that's generally what the public sees is generally unmanaged conditions, management is very important. So having an onsite manager to, you know, make sure all the rules are being followed, and systems are running properly. Very important. So we have a full time site manager on site. And then the case managers, of course, work with the veterans, you know, daily, weekly monthly, to build a plan that gets them transition to permanent housing. And so really, it is about, you know, screening, you know, the veterans, bringing them in, and making a long term, a short and long term plan, so that, you know, they achieved the goal, which is transitional housing, you know, permanent housing outside of, of this, this community, and that, that makes room for the next veteran on the list. So, yeah, it's a management is very important. But, you know, the residents generally manage themselves, they elect a village committee of five of the residents to act as, let's say, the first level of management that there's any disagreements or infractions. And they'll adjudicate that so to speak. And then after that, if there's any issues, you know, veterans can be removed, residents can be removed, if they don't follow the code of conduct, and, and toe the line and, you know, do their share of the responsibilities out here on the site, you know, and that the veterans will vote, if they feel like someone needs to be removed, that, of course, goes to the next level, which is kind of the village council, which is, you know, Covo bend heroes Foundation, a county representative of behavioral health representative, you know, that really, really gets the kind of the final say, of the, if we're going to remove somebody, you know, let's, let's make sure we've understand, you know, the reasoning behind it. So, you know, there's some, you know, the basic code of conduct that we expect everybody to uphold. And I think that's, that's not a problem because the residents really appreciate having the program and the services and, you know, these are our, our veterans that sacrifice for us. And, you know, they're going to continue to serve their country, you know, by being good citizens here and then, you know, helping their fellow veterans in the future when they find permanent housing.

Michael Sipe  14:47  
I met the site manager there a few months ago, what a sharp guy and I think that a lot of kudos to him for, for keeping this all on the rails and I think you've already had some Pretty early successes, right? Can you share one or two stories? On anonymously? Of course, but you had a story or two?

Unknown Speaker  15:06  
Yeah, that's right. Yeah. So we opened on Veterans Day, November 11 2021. So just about six months ago, you know, the typical stay is about a year based on other villages experience, you know, maximum stays about two years. Usually, the quickest you'll you'll see a transition out of the program was about six months, but we had a pretty quick transition about three months in the program, we were able to hook the veteran up with services, and permanent housing, and now they've moved on to permanent housing. And, you know, it's met everybody out here. And this individual was really fun to work with, he always volunteered to help me out, because we were, after we finished the first five units, we were still working on the next 10. And he was always offered to lend a helping hand on the products, whether it was siding or interior finishes, or, you know, the grading anything he was willing to help.

Michael Sipe  16:04  
Very cool. What comes next for central Oregon's Veterans Village? And for the bend heroes foundation? What's next on the agenda?

Unknown Speaker  16:12  
Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, this was, this was a real massive project for us, you know, took a lot, a lot of energy. And so you know, I, I took a bit of a, we took a bit of a sigh of relief, and we finished our 15th cabin, so we can, you know, get this fully occupied. And that was about a month or so ago. So until that point, we really, were just trying to focus on getting this thing done. And that really includes, you know, looking at the feasibility of expanding the project here on site, you know, our original vision was for 25 units, and we're at 15. So there's another potential 10 that we could be doing. So we'll be going back out to the community doing some fundraising, you know, working with the county commissioners, and city council and city staff to, you know, make sure all the all the ducks are in a row to expand this program. And then, you know, we're continuously, you know, consulting on similar projects, you know, we, you know, podcasts like this really important to get the word out, because I really feel like every community should, and can do something like this. And so we're trying to help other communities around the state and around the country, you know, with what our experience has been, you know, how do you do it? And what kind of what are the important steps? And who do you need on board to get to get it accomplished? So and I think the short answer is we're looking to do more of these types of programs, because almost population of veterans is, is rather large, and it's distributed all across the country. And our communities out there, they really want to do this kind of project, that committee Community of Central Oregon, and Ben was phenomenal. And putting this together, you know, everybody said yes, sometimes with COVID, and labor shortages and material problems. It was yes, but you know, maybe in a month, or, you know, down the road, but but everybody wanted to help wherever they could. And, you know, that's, that's Ben is a great community, central Oregon's a great community, they really respect and appreciate their veterans. And that's the that's probably true for all communities, who appreciate their veterans. So the idea is to try to get more of this done.

Michael Sipe  18:30  
super well. That's a great segue into the question, you know, how do people get involved? Those that are listening today? How can they get involved? How can they learn more? What kind of helped you need?

Unknown Speaker  18:42  
Yeah, I think you know, for now, you know, we're winding down the volunteer side of things. Thankfully, there's not much more to do on the construction side. If folks want to donate, they can go to the website you know, that donation will help us with expansion. Central Oregon veteran's that's all one word. It's got some pictures and stories and background about the village you can go to our Facebook page and learn more there it's been heroes foundation on Facebook, Central Oregon Veterans Outreach our partner would be glad to accept donations also they do that for living they've got their office down on Third Street across from Fred Meyer. You know, we're going into the summer now but you know, winter is not that far away and Central Oregon right so it's never far away. Moving my snow next week for that matter, but you know, there's they always are accepting donations of clothes, food supplies, I had a person called me about donating a a assistance device for getting around like a motorized scooter and walkers, you know and Kobo is out in the homeless camps on a daily basis. So they're talking to veterans who are in need every single day. The village is just one of go host capabilities here in town, but they're out in the camps every day. And our veterans need your help. And so I think the best way to help out is to go down to Cobo on Third Street. And you know, if the if the feel the move to donate, they would really appreciate donations of money or, you know, clothes, sleeping bags, boots, shoes, you know, warm weather stuff, even in the summer, it gets cold at night, especially if you're living in the woods. And so, you know, tents, all that kind of stuff is always in need. And that would be a great way for the public to to give back.

Michael Sipe  20:47  
Yeah, I think our rotary club did propane, and some other things like that jackets and things like that. So it's certainly just a great organization. Well, what's the most rewarding part of working with veterans for you, and with establishing the village, you've been doing it now, for a long time, had some fantastic and heartwarming successes, with the flights back to Washington and the veterans, and now this village, what's been the most rewarding part of it for you?

Unknown Speaker  21:18  
Yeah, I mean, all of it has been rewarding in a different ways, you know, when you can fake a world war two veteran for saving the free world, and defeating tyranny, you know, whether it's Nazis or other forms of aggression all across the world back then, you know, that it's an incredible experience, you know, it's hard to even speak about it without, you know, tearing up. And then, you know, this experience here, it's, it's a completely different experience. We're not thanking them for their service, we're not just thanking these veterans for their service, we're showing our gratitude by providing them shelter, and food, and a change direction in their life. And so when you talk to these veterans, you know, it's, it's beyond words, that you think you could have a small role in, you know, changing the direction of their life for the rest of their life, you know, helping them find from an analysis, helping them find employment, you know, bringing them out of the woods. It's just, it's just an unbelievable experience that you really can't put the words but, you know, if you think about it, and you're a citizen out there listening, it's like, how would you feel if you knew you, were able to help somebody come out of the woods, in a dignified, you know, housing situation, with food and shelter, and clothing, and help, you know, help to get back on their feet, whether it's health assistance, or job assistance. You know, it's a fellow human being that a sacrifice for us. You know, it's just just beyond words. But it's, it's been really, really, really powerful.

Michael Sipe  23:08  
Well, it's a tremendous service, I met a couple of the guys when I was out there on the tour. And I think the word you've used it several times through our discussion here, but it is a word that resounds and that's dignity. And I think that's such a super concept for us to have about the the village because it really is being run in a dignified way and an honorable way, and a humane way. One of my takeaways from our talk here, I didn't realize about the code of conduct and the and the community governance that you've put in place. That's a very, very cool aspect, as well as having the wraparound services, right there. And the site manager who's a an awesome guy, you've just done a terrific job with this. I really appreciate your time. I appreciate your message, and thanks for your contribution to our region.

Unknown Speaker  23:59  
Well, Mike, it's been a real pleasure and privilege to beyond thank you for asking me and helping us get the word out, you know, that, that our veterans get the help they need. So, you know, I'm just, I'm just the messenger and it's, it's a small part I can play that helped these, these great citizens and the zeros and, you know, thanks for getting us involved.

Michael Sipe  24:23  
You bet. Well, you're a humble guy, but you're a hero in my eyes as well. My guest today has been Eric Tobias and Senior Vice President for RBC Wealth Management, and a founder of Ben heroes foundation. You can learn more about the Central Oregon veteran's Village at Central Oregon veterans Thanks for tuning in today.

Narrator  24:47  
Thanks for listening to cascade views with Michael SIPE. To find out more about Mike the upcoming election. The key issues he's focused on in his campaign to represent Central Oregon and Salem as a state representative Visit www dot a voice for Central that's www dot voice for Central You can get your own copy of Michael sites best selling book the Avada And finally, please vote in the upcoming election. Your Voice Matters