OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — The most recent homeless count in Alameda County shows 12 percent of the homeless are veterans. It’s a troubling statistic, and one that this week’s Jefferson Award winner is committed to changing.
The route from Livermore to West Oakland is one Sally Trautwein knows very well. Every other Saturday, for 20 years, she’s made the 45 minute drive from her home to House of Dignity, a transitional housing facility where veterans help homeless vets get back on their feet. The men in transition get a safe home, food, and thanks to Sally — some clothing to help them on their way.
“I hope you guys are looking for some things,” she told the group on a recent Saturday visit. “I have lots of stuff today.”
Veteran Dwayne Clinton said he was going to visit his mother for the first time in years. But she lives in St. Louis, and it’s winter.
“I got this from Miss Sally,” Clinton said, plucking at the arms of his Henley-style shirt. “I didn’t even have a long sleeved shirt!”
And it’s not unusual for Dignity House residents to arrive with nothing at all.
“They’re trying to get back on their feet,” Trautwein explained. “They might be going for a job interview, or they want to go to church, or visit family, and they’re like everyone else — they want to look nice.”
Despite working a full time job, and raising a family, Trautwein didn’t hesitate to volunteer starting in 1993, when she heard about the opening of Dignity House. The idea struck a chord because of her own experience. In her early 20s, she was a social worker for the Red Cross, serving at military hospitals in Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.
“I have a lot of appreciation for servicemen and women,” she said. “I saw what those guys went through and I just wanted to reach out to them and let them know that somebody cared.”
So Trautwein collects clothing from friends and her church, and uses her own money to buy new socks and underwear. The veterans appreciate it — so much that they recently pooled their meager resources to buy her a plaque, even collecting aluminum cans to foot the bill.
Vietnam war veteran David Johnson said Trautwein “gets it.”
“She really does,” Johnson said. “She understands everybody needs somebody.”
So for being that “somebody” for countless veterans rebuilding their lives, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Sally Trautwein.
If you’d like to contribute to Sally’s efforts to help our veterans, you can reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org