One of the most impactful encounters of my life took place in Spring 2013. I was exiting the 405 freeway after a long day of office work. I spotted a homeless man at the freeway exit, holding a sign saying “Desert Storm Vet”. Los Angeles has tons of homeless people, but this man stood out to me for some reason. maybe it was his eyes, they looked huge behind his thick reading glasses. I pulled my window down, greeted him, and handed him an apple. He laughed and told me he couldn’t eat it because he had virtually no teeth. So I found a mushy protein bar and some water to give him instead. I looked down and saw he had only a few fingers left on both hands, was walking with a cane, and physically looked emaciated. I asked him – why not go to the VA? Or any other veteran non-profit? He told me he’d be turned away from the VA bc they deemed him “physically fit”…..
I immediately began to cry. He started to console me. This man, who served our country, who was now sleeping on the streets of Panorama City, who had to beg while hunching over from back pain, holding signs he could barely hold onto because he had no fingers, who had to turn away food because he physically couldn’t eat it, who could hardly see because he was basically blind- was consoling me.
The light turned green, he smiled at me, and said “God bless you”.
I told him the same and wished him the best.
I cried for the rest of the day and never had felt so shitty in my life.
The following was taken from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website:
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly 9% being female. The majority are single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans.
Roughly 45% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.
Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. Conversely, only 5% of all veterans are between the ages of 18 and 30, and less than 23% are between 31 and 50.
America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.
About 1.4 million other veterans, meanwhile, are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
How to get involved:
- Determine the need in your community. Visit with homeless veteran service providers. Contact your mayor’s office for a list of providers, or search the NCHV database.
- Involve others. If you are not already part of an organization, align yourself with a few other people who are interested in attacking this issue.
- Participate in local homeless coalitions. Chances are, there is one in your community. If not, this could be the time to bring people together around this critical need.
- Make a donation to your local homeless veteran service provider.
- Contact your elected officials. Discuss what is being done in your community for homeless veterans.