I have been working at the Justa Center for something more than a year now. There are two of us that work as Veterans Advocates. Joe, the other Advocate, and I started the same day. We found out that we have several things in common. We were born in the same month, the same year and drive autos of the same make, model and year. We also share a passion for both our jobs and the Justa Center. Other those facts, we are as different as can be. Joe was career army and I served one enlistment in the Navy. While we both did a tour in Vietnam, Joe ended his career after the first Gulf War. Then, of course, he was an officer and I was enlisted. Veterans, especially homeless one, are near and dear to our hearts.
We are just now getting comfortable doing our jobs. There is a steep learning curve in dealing with vets and their needs. There is another steep curve in learning how to help homeless folk. It has taken a while to come to grips with how we can and how we can’t help. A hard lesson for both of us was having to tell a vet that we couldn’t help him and that it was time to get help somewhere other than the Justa Center. There are many reasons why we can’t help the homeless, both vets and non vets. Drugs, alcohol, mental illness are a few of the reasons. The most common is that an individual is just not willing to participate in their own life. We are grateful for those we can help and saddened by those we can’t help. We’re getting pretty good at helping.
Last week we heard that the Mayor of Phoenix, Gregg Stanton, is leading Phoenix in an effort to end chronic homelessness among veterans. See a video here. It isn’t clear to me how he is going to do this. He is throwing a lot of money at the problem. The goal is to have no more homeless by February 2014.
Getting homeless into housing first, makes a lot of sense. It is a good start. Imagine being homeless and holding down a regular job. Keeping people off the streets is harder. Housing requires income. It is easier to get and keep a job if you have housing. The vets Joe and I see are all over 55. Pretty tough getting a job if you are older than 55, especially for laborers or others that have had physically demanding trades. Those with physical or mental illness have an even more difficult time of it. Have I mentioned that here in Arizona, we don’t house mentally ill unless they are a threat to others or themselves? It is too expensive. Unfortunately we sometimes make mistakes in defining the line. At any rate, there are a lot of people who cannot care for themselves on the streets. A good percentage of them are veterans.
A lot of the older ones that Joe and I visit with have been on the streets ever since Vietnam. PTSD and the effects of Agent Orange we not acknowledged until long after they were discharged. Even Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan vets find PTSD a hindrance to holding employment. Mostly, it is: if no income, no home, sooner or later.
I didn’t hear if Mayor Stanton is going to help with income. So, while I applaud his initiative, Joe and I are just going to keep on doing our job as best we can.
Joe and I don’t care if a veteran hasn’t been chronically homeless. We think no one should have to sleep under the stars or in a shelter even once. Especially, those that served in the armed forces.
I wonder: How does this fit with Jesus’ prediction that we would always have the poor with us?