As a formerly homeless alcoholic and addict, founder Ken Leslie lived on the streets. As a professional comedian he started seeing more people on the streets. When he learned 60% were children, he felt called to help.
In 1990 he turned his life around, founding a successful executive search firm which over the next two decades allowed him to become a philanthropist and create and fund programs to help the homeless in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio.
On February 6, 2012 during street outreach with the VA, Shawn Dowling, coordinator with the local Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program, told Ken that a deposit was all that was preventing two of his local chronically homeless veteran friends from getting into the ready HUD-VASH housing, with 33 more vouchers for veterans in the pipeline.
He asked what the veterans did when they did not have the deposits and she said some of the veterans went to the churches and VFW’s and begged for it.
That broke Ken’s heart so that night he created Veterans Matter to simply eliminate that last barrier and push these veterans over the threshold into ready housing by covering that deposit paid straight to the landlord.
The next morning Ken called Barb Petee, an executive at Promedica Health System, to find the $26,250 pilot funding to cover the vouchers from the Toledo Community Foundation’s Promedica Advocacy Fund.
Seven days later, on Valentines Day, 5:36 p.m., Barb called with full pilot funding. Three days later, the first waiting veteran family was housed out of a family shelter. 11 days from idea, to funding, to execution. Ken then went back to his executive search practice, writing checks to landlords as needed.
During the taping of a public service announcement, Dusty Hill of ZZ Top asked Ken to expand the program to Houston, Texas – which Dusty would help fund. Ken provided some start up funding to create an online cloud-based system to allow veterans in Houston or any funded area of operation to be housed. To date that Texas group has raised over $500,000 and housed over 1,000 Texas veterans.
John Mellencamp did the same for Indiana. Mitch Albom, along with Katy Perry, Kid Rock, and First Nation Group made housing Michigan veterans possible, with continuing support. The Veterans Matter pilot program then grew and has been well-documented in the press