Homeless vets say program promising help was 'a nightmare'

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by LINDA BYRON / KING 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 5:32 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 12 at 2:04 PM

Kathie King is still adjusting to her whirlwind move from New Mexico to Oak Harbor -- a move that began last summer after she saw an ad on Craigslist. King said the ad intrigued her because it was titled, “Homes for Heroes, Homes for Veterans.”

King clicked on the ad, which took her to the Making a Difference Foundation website and its Homes for Veterans program. The website stated: “Our program provides safe and secure housing and counseling, financial management, credit repair, legal services, health and social services to veterans and their families as needed. If the veteran successfully completes our program they will be eligible to purchase the home in which they are living in or another home.”

“It all looked really good in the beginning; it really did,” said King, who had been living in an RV.

King said the Making a Difference Foundation program appeared to be offering her a needed lifeline. Founded by Ahndrea Blue, the nonprofit charity's goal is to help people with basic needs like food and housing, according its website. The foundation runs a food bank in Tacoma that won recognition for Blue in 2011 when she was selected as a Washington State Jefferson Award winner, which honors people who do extraordinary things to improve their communities.

King felt certain that she would qualify for the Homes for Veterans program: She served in the U.S. Army from 1981-87, earning the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal. She also suffered “service connected trauma” and is now permanently disabled according to her Department of Veterans Affairs paperwork.

King said she applied to the Homes for Veterans Program and got a call right away telling her  there was a house available in Oak Harbor, a military community on Whidbey Island. On August 19, she flew to Seattle, rented a car and drove to see the house on Walker Avenue -- a house that had been purchased by the Making a Difference Foundation in March 2012.

King said she met the foundation's CEO, Ahndrea Blue, at the house. When she arrived, King said Blue opened the door and told her to do a walk through. King said she was shocked at the condition of the home. 

“It was nasty. It was just nasty. There were holes in the wall, graffiti on the wall. It was clear that rats had been in there establishing themselves for a long time.  The appliances were nasty.  There was wiring exposed, mold in the walls, junk all over the place. It wasn’t for me. It’s not the way I live,” King said.

King said she started to leave, but Blue stopped her.

“She’s like, 'No, no, that’s my building contractor [pointing to a man who was on the property] and he’s going to remodel the whole place, he’s gonna haul away the junk, then I’m going to hire a professional cleaning company,’ that’s what she said," said King.

King said she was persuaded by Blue’s promises. On August 20, she wrote a check for $1,936 to the foundation to cover the first month’s rent, security deposit and pet deposit, then she flew back to New Mexico and started packing.

King said the drive back to Oak Harbor took her six days. She said she arrived on September 4, the day before her designated move in date, to find the house still a mess. 

“So I called her [Blue] and she starts screaming at me, saying I’m disrespecting her and 'get over it and just deal with it and all you veterans are alike and I could throw you out of my program,'" King said. "And I’m in tears, because where am I going to go, what am I going to do?”

King said she filled out a checklist indicating that the house was in OK shape, except for trash on the property and missing screens and window coverings. “I had no choice, she got all my money,” she said.

Then she said she went to work fixing it up. “I went and got screen kits, made every screen for that house to keep rats from coming in,” she said.

King said she took photos to document the mold, exposed wiring and dirty conditions. She hired a pest control company. According to the bid the company provided for pest eradication on September 11, “rodents have found multiple openings around home to enter,” “rodents have gained access to crawl space,” and “carpenter ants nesting in attic & trailing in through the front door.” 

King hired a cleaning company for $300. The paperwork, dated September 5, states that the house, refrigerator and stove were “filthy” and that there were live wires behind the refrigerator and under the sink where there was a plumbing leak. King also paid $220 to have debris hauled away, according to an invoice dated September 7.  

King said that she called Blue to notify her about the problems with rats, bees, ants, mold and the plumbing leak.

“And every time I called her the phone calls were crazy,” King said, “She would just scream at you, call you names, make fun of you, and laugh at you.” 

Blue denied ever receiving those phone calls or any notification the house was dirty, had rodents, or a plumbing leak   She also said that she did a walk through in August before renting the house to King and found that house did not have any serious problems at that time. 

“Apparently the house had been broken into, we know that, but the house was not in shambles; it was livable,” Blue said. 

KING 5 News showed Blue the bids and invoices from the pest control company, cleaning service and junk hauler and asked her it that changed anything. 

“What changes the situation for me, is that Katherine trusted me and we had a great relationship and I didn’t get an opportunity to make this right for her,” Blue said, breaking into tears, "because she had already been through a lot. I wish she had just trusted me for one more day, to know that I would never do this to her.” 
 
Just three and a half weeks after moving into the Walker Avenue house, King moved out. She later filed a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office in which she demanded that Blue re-pay the $3,021 she said she’d spent on rent and fixing and cleaning the house. In October, Blue sent her a check for $258. In the final accounting notice, Blue indicated she was charging King rent for the month of October because King failed to provide proper notice that she was terminating her lease.

King is now living in a house owned by another veteran. She said the program that had offered so much promise was “a nightmare.”

A year before King moved to Oak Harbor, Varronica and Erik Hendricksen were placed in the same  Walker Avenue house. 

“She [Blue] said that we were going to be her so called poster candidates for this program,” Erik Hendricksen said. 

Varronica Hendricksen, a Navy veteran, said she and Erik had fallen on hard times and were on the verge of being homeless when they saw an ad for the Homes for Veterans program, which seemed exactly what they needed to help them clean up their credit, learn to budget and eventually buy a house.

But the Hendricksens said that during the eight months they were in the program -- from August 2012 until April 2013 -- they never received the credit counseling, financial management advice or legal services they were promised. 

Ahndrea Blue disputed their account, saying she referred the Hendricksens to experts who could help them with things like credit counseling and budget management. Blue said it was the Hendricksens to follow through.

“One thing our program won’t do is, we’re not going to make you do anything,” Blue said, “All we can do is tell you what it is you should be doing.  We can offer you x and y, if you choose not to follow through, there’s nothing we can do.”

Even with Varronica Hendricksen’s job washing dishes and cleaning tables in the cafeteria at the Whidbey Naval Air Station, her family fell behind on the rent and utility bills. Varronica said that she missed work due to health problems, joint disease (she wears a leg brace) and depression. The Hendricksens say instead of the help they’d been counting on from the Making a Difference Foundation, they got an eviction notice.

The notice was placed on the front and back doors of the home in April 2013, ordering them to vacate the premises no later than May 1. They moved into a tiny duplex in a trailer park. 

Blue sued the Hendricksens and won a court judgment on April 22 for $2,067 which includes $1,000 for the attorney hired by Making a Difference Foundation to handle the eviction. The Hendricksens said that they have not paid the judgment because they don’t have the money.

Overall, the Hendricksens said that the experience with Homes for Veterans was a nightmare. But according to Blue she had no alternative but to dismiss them from the program because they failed to meet the requirements they’d agreed to when they signed up.

According to a letter from Blue on Making a Difference Foundation letterhead and dated March 3, 2013, the lapses included: “failing to pay your allocation on time and failure to make advance payment arrangements, failure to complete community service (a requirement of the program) and failure to properly document community service ... failure to submit required documentation for budget and expenses, ... refusal to submit proof that all utilities are paid to date, ... continual bad attitudes.” 

Blue said the Hendricksens wanted to stay in the house without participating in the program, which she could not allow.

“We gave them multiple chances. Eviction is always the last option," Blue said.
 
Like King, the Hendricksens filed a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s ffice. The office said it has received a total of three complaints in responding to a public disclosure request filed by KING 5. All three complainants said that they never received the services they were promised and that Blue was at times disrespectful and harassed them.

Blue said that the foundation has evicted six veterans since the program began in early 2012 and has dismissed several others, but they are the exceptions among the 41 veterans who’ve taken part in the Homes for Veterans program.

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