As National Veterans and Military Families Month winds down, an Arizona electric cooperative is working with community groups to help those who served and are most in need of support.

Shelter and other resources for homeless veterans, especially in the state's rural areas, are in short supply. In the service area of Mohave Electric Cooperative (MEC), the closest homeless shelter to its Bullhead City, Arizona, headquarters serves 23 men and is about 40 miles away in Kingman, said Mark Tierce, site director at Veterans Resource Centers of America.

"We serve a very rural area, and there is definitely a need" among the nearly 200 homeless veterans in Mohave County, said Tierce.

MEC is helping fill that gap for rural homeless veterans. Recently, its board of directors authorized an annual $30,000 contribution to help operate an eight-bed veterans' wing at the new Stamper Center for Help and Hope. The Catholic Charities Community Services of Northwest Arizona will operate the center when it opens in 2020.

"Our board of directors recognized our community has a critical need to assist homeless veterans with temporary shelter and nutrition and other assistance to help them get back on their feet," said Tyler Carlson, the co-op's CEO.

Construction on the 57-bed facility, known as Freedom Annex, began in January. In addition to a wing for veterans, the facility will provide daytime drop-in services and referrals for jobs, housing and drug treatment.

MEC will also help the shelter save money and energy with installation of a rooftop solar array. Through its Solar Initiative for the Community program, the co-op has installed arrays for more than three dozen schools, fire stations, government buildings and nonprofit agencies.

"We're trying to help the most we can in the community, and one of the ways is to try to keep costs or taxes as low as possible, or at least remaining the same," said Rick Campos, the co-op's chief operating officer.

The number of homeless veterans in Arizona fell for the third consecutive year in 2018, according to federal data. Last year, there were an estimated 893 homeless veterans, a decrease of nearly 8% from the 970 recorded in 2017.

Even so, veterans benefit from specialized services, said Tierce, who said MEC "stepped up, big time."

"Some veterans have special issues, such as traumatic brain injury or PTSD. Also, there's that common bond among veterans," said Tierce. "It helps to have someone who's pounded the same sand as you."