University of Pittsburgh

Windows of Opportunities for Homeless Veterans

The leadership of Jared Souder (MBA '10) was tested on the sand-whipped streets of Baqubah, an Iraqi city targeted by insurgent fighters, about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Souder, a U.S. Army logistics officer, led a platoon of more than 50 troops into combat situations. He savored that level of responsibility, and after leaving the military, wanted to take on another leadership role. In December 2009, Souder jumped at an opportunity to become the executive director of Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard in Pittsburgh.

"I wanted a place where I could jump in, get up to my elbows in problems, and help solve them. I'm getting that experience as an MBA early in my career," Souder says.

At 32 years old, Souder is among the youngest nonprofit executive directors in the region. Veterans Place gives up to 48 homeless veterans a temporary home in once-abandoned brick row houses on Washington Boulevard that have been rehabbed. The average stay is 11 months, and the average veteran's age is 46 years.

"Our philosophy is that veterans can be here as long as they're actively working on leaving. This is not just a place to hang your hat. You need to be serious about working and doing things," Souder says.

Veterans Place gives male and female veterans, most of whom have substance abuse or mental health issues, a chance to get back on their feet. Veterans pay rent on a sliding scale, with rent capped at a maximum of $372 per month. Those who have nothing pay nothing.

Through the Service Center at Veterans Place, people have access to social workers, employment assistance, two computer labs, and courses on financial literacy and budgeting. The center also hosts the Homeless Veterans Day Program, which serves relapsed veterans who are sleeping in city shelters or on the streets. This gives them a safe place to hang out during the day, enjoy free meals, and receive referrals for treatment - an essential step for them to begin rebuilding their lives.

"I think we do save lives," Souder says. "There are more homeless veterans in Pittsburgh than people think. Veterans are more than twice as likely to become homeless as civilians."

Souder says many Americans don't understand how combat changes a person. It was tough, even for him, to adjust. Souder says it helped that several other MBA students at the Katz School were veterans, as well as several professors, including John Harry Evans III, U.S. Air Force retired and a member of the accounting faculty.

For three consecutive years, GI Jobs, a national magazine for military personnel transitioning into civilian life, has named the Katz School and the College of Business Administration one of the most military-friendly schools in the nation. The 2012 Military Friendly Schools list honors the top 20 percent of colleges, universities, and trade schools.

"Some people do a great job with coping, and some people don't. Some people do okay for a while, and then things catch up to them," Souder says.

Because of limited staffing at Veterans Place, Souder juggles marketing, finance, fundraising, human resources, and information technology work. He was recently named a winner of Pittsburgh's 2011 40 under 40 awards, which honor professionals making a difference in their industry.

Souder says there is a vacuum of business talent in the nonprofit world. Almost daily, Souder applies the business fundamentals he learned in his MBA education to running Veterans Place.

"This is a nonprofit, but it's still a business. We still have income, marginal costs, fixed costs, and the things that other businesses have, we just have a different approach to how it gets managed," Souder says.