God Bless Our Vets--A Transitional Living Shelter
Out of the Battlefield and Into the Bushes
One day I was walking down main street, and it seemed to me that there were sure a lot of homeless men on the streets. I decided to take a little poll on my own, just to see what was going on.
So I started walking down main street, and every homeless man that I came upon, I stopped and talked to. I asked them their age, who they were, and how they became homeless. As it turned out, in the 8 or 10 blocks that I walked, that about 70% approx. were veterans, who had gotten out of the service, and had found that they had no place to go. Many of them had lost their families, due to divorce, some of them were single and found that they could not find jobs fast enough, or if they did find work, it was not enough to pay all their expenses. Still others, and this number was high, were injured, hospitalized, on disability, and found that their disability checks were insufficient by far to allow them to pay rent and food, leaving them no cash at all for things like cars, insurance and that sort of thing.
One man told me that he got a little under one thousand dollars a month, and that what he and a couple of the other guys did, was stick together, and about one week out of the month would put enough money together to rent a room, and shared it so that for at least a few days a month they could have shelter, the conveniences of a hot shower, and could sleep on a bed. The rest of the month they had a camp a short distance from town, in a riverbottem that was dry most of the year. The problem with that, was that the city police considered that illegal camping and would raid their camps on a regular basis, taking them all to jail, and leaving their belongings there, where others would steal all that they had by the time they got back to it.
My heart went out to this one man that talked to me for about 45 minutes. He was the one who had given me most of this information. He also told me that because of his homeless status, he felt like a bum, and most of the community viewed him as a lazy bum, instead of the hero that he should have been. He said what hurt him the most, is when he was sitting somewhere, people, especially women with kids would cross the street to avoid passing him, and that most viewed him as someone who was sitting there begging. He also said that it bothered him immensely when people avoided making eye contact with him, and would hurry past him if he said anything to anyone, like a simple good morning. He felt invisible to everyone, like the scum of the earth.
How horrible this must be for these guys. Something must be done.
So how could this problem get fixed?
I had to find out what was needed. I had to know what it was that was preventing them from finding work, for they were not uneducated people, for they had been trained to do some very difficult jobs in the service. What was causing these people to be dropouts from society, in massive numbers. What did they need to get back into our community as functioning citizens again?
My son, who is 33 years of age, and was very sociable, told me that he knew a lot of people down in these camps in the riverbottom. That was the other thing that had stood out in my little search that the other 30% of the homeless I found that day, were young people, between the ages of 17 to 25. These were the ones that my son knew, so off we went down into the hobo camps, as they are referred to, to talk to some of them and find out what would really be of a help to them. Not a handout, but a hand up.
After several days of questioning, it seemed to be that the need to find food and shelter every single day, overtook their need to find a job. That made sense, for if I were in that position, surely I would not go look for work if I did not have a place to sleep or food to eat that night.
When I began talking to others about this situation, most people thought that the homeless situation was due to the laziness, and substance abuse of these people that was causing the problem. There was a large gap between the fact of the matter, and the general opinion of community around them. There had to be a solution. I went home with a heavy heart, and a lot on my mind.
After several days of pondering, and writing down the problems put before me, the misunderstandings of the community, and the specific things that were getting in the way, I studied my notes. It all became very clear to me then. This is how, God Bless Our Vets, A Non-Profit Homeless Shelter, came into existence. It was a very different sort of program, it had to be to be effective. This is what I came up with.
A Program Like No Other
The reason these guys were ending up in the streets, was simple. The service had taught them how to survive. When they came back home, to find they no longer had a home, their training, so fresh in their minds, kicked in. It was all about survival.
The basics of my program I had to outline. Here it was.... these people were not lazy, for the time I spent in the camps proved to me that these people worked harder than anyone I knew that had jobs. They cut wood, hauled water, in fact they hauled everything they needed to live. They all walked or rode bikes, and they all worked together, each camp unit, to meet the needs of each individual in their camp.
So, the first thing that God Bless Our Vets had to do was to eliminate those pressing needs of survival. The program would provide each man with a place to sleep, and food to eat every day. All that was required in return, was that the man set goals for himself, and each day achieve or get closer to achieving those goals. The goals could be big or small. It did not matter if the man's goal was to get shoelaces, if he did it, and it got him closer to integrating back into the community, it satisfied the requirement.
Once the individual sat down and wrote down those things he felt he needed, it was then up to GBOV to help him, for example if the man felt he was being held back by his outward appearance, we would help him get his hair cut, and get clothing. If he felt he needed his teeth looked at, that would be provided. There were many programs offered by the government for these needs, but finding them was difficult for the individual. The organization already would have these programs listed for this need.
It was not my intention to reform anybody, and this is where my program was different by far from all the others. I did not care if the men drank. I was not there to judge these people for their drug use, alcohol use, or any other vice they might appear to have. If the person did not feel it was keeping him from working, from getting back in touch with their children, from getting a place to live, than it was not my duty to make them do anything about any of that. As long as they made efforts to get back into the job market, go to school, or do whatever it was they felt they needed to do, that was what I wanted for them.
There was also to be a thrift store that went along with this shelter, and this would be one of the main ways to provide it with the household articles needed, and it would also be a way for some of the men to begin working. It would also provide the shelter with the cash flow needed to provide it with the food, and other things needed to run it efficiently.
The shelter would be also a source for learning a few things, for it would have a workable shop to fix our vehicles, to repair furniture, and if we had enough room, possibly even have a place for a garden. This would give us a place for each man to be able to help the shelter be self sufficient, and give the persons a way to learn other skills he might want to learn.
Also, I had it set up so that each veteran would have the choice to continue with the program and become part of the staff if he wanted to, so that eventually I would be able to back out and the program would be run and staffed by the veterans themselves. Run by veterans, for the veterans. A way for these people to have dignity, and be able to solve their problems by their own, for who would know or understand their problems better?
So far, I only have all of this on paper. I have run into a brick wall when it comes to getting it into action, for this city has the opinion that a homeless shelter for vets would look bad to all the tourists, and would effectively lose the city money. My answer to that is, what would look worse to these tourists, a shelter set up to help these guys, or to have our brave veterans sitting and sleeping on the sidewalk for them to step over and around, and to feel like they had to cross the street to avoid?
Hopefully, after I can find enough people to help me by going to city council meetings, by writing letters to the newspaper, and by helping to get us started, we will find a way to begin, for our brave men who fought for our freedoms should not be treated like this when they come home.