Q13 FOX Season of Giving

Tacoma Veteran uses Army skills, business savvy to fight homelessness

Greg Walker, 101st Pathfinder Company at Fort Campbell Kentucky. 1987

TACOMA, Wash – Elected leaders across Washington State continue trying to stem the growing homeless crisis plaguing the region. However, in most cases those efforts have been unsuccessful in decreasing the number of people living on the streets.

But a 23-year Army veteran in Tacoma says he is confident he can unlock a key part of the solution.

Greg Walker and his business partner founded Valeo Vocation earlier this year and in the last two months they have put more than twenty people to work and paid more than $20,000 in wages.

Valeo is a nonprofit homeless service agency, run like a for profit temporary staffing agency. It hires people who are homeless. It pays them wages. It then finds employers in need of temporary workers and sends people to them. Ultimately the goal is to move those temp employees into permanent jobs.

Walker joined the Army right out of high school. At that time the Army’s slogan was ‘Be all you can be’ and he says at the time he thought that was cheesy. Today, it’s the business model and he’s using to get people off the streets and back on their feet.

Technically Valeo’s Tacoma office building is still under construction, but that isn’t stopping Walker and the team from doing everything they can to build people up.

“I wanna be able to say hey, there is hope,” says Walker.

Walker knows about hope. He put his hope in the Army for over two decades.

“In the process I learned to build good teams, lead people, develop people, recognize the potential in other people and help them achieve what they are capable of,” says Walker.

After the Army, Walker says he used his passion to go to work in corporate America where he had a successful career building and leading teams.

Then he moved to Tacoma where he felt he had an opportunity to use his skills to help build up the community. It was in Tacoma that he began to see more and more of his neighbors living on the streets

“I know what it’s like to be wet and cold and be rained on and hungry and that kind of thing from the military,” says Walker. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to do that without that support structure.”

So when he was approached with the idea to build a support structure he jumped at the chance and Valeo was born.

The staffing agency helps people like Thomas Ostenson who was sidelined from his job with long term major health issues. His disability wasn’t enough. He and his family ended up losing everything and becoming homeless.

“Getting a starting point is really what we needed to do to start moving forward,” says Ostenson.

Then Ostenson was referred to Valeo where he was hired and sent out on temp jobs. It has taken time, but he has regained his footing and when Q13 News visited Valeo’s offices Ostenson was headed out on an interview for a permanent job.

Walker says the jobs aren’t the issue. In this economy those are plentiful.

“Right now we have more jobs open than we can fill,” says Walker.

Instead he says they need the cash flow to continue growing as a startup business. That’s one of Walker’s biggest challenges. He manages the business and he’s out fundraising.

As for the services Valeo offers, it’s not just jobs. They offer people who are homeless help finding temporary housing, getting into drug treatment programs, getting legal services or even just applying for new identification.

“They’re just kinda there for whatever you need,” says Kim Holliday.

Holliday was a stay at home mom in Olympia until she ran into legal trouble/

“So I ended up homeless,” she says. “And jobless and so I went to salvation army shelter.”

Then she found Valeo. Now with their help Holliday is putting her life back together.

Walker says they give people a leg up and then walk beside them as they climb.

“Circumstances got em in a bad spot, and we were able to come along side em,” says Walker.

Walker says it’s hard but worthy work.

“I think we got a huge growth potential,” says Walker. “I don’t know that there is a limit.”

Right now Valeo is making about 65% of the revenue it needs to keep going. Next year Walker projects they will make over 80% of the needed revenue. He says the rest must be made up through partnerships, donations and grants.

Walker says he hopes that some day they will have employed so many people in the Tacoma area that they put themselves out of business.

Until then he says he’s hoping the community continues stepping in and donating to the unique and innovative staffing agency working so hard to end homelessness.
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If you would like to donate you can find more information at Valeovocation.org. If you work for a social service agency, a nonprofit or a governmental agency and want to partner with Valeo, they welcome that help too.