Pain is seen in their eyes
Anger is seen upon their foreheads
Confusion is seen in their wanderings
Distance is seen upon their hearts
Crying for patience
Acceptance beckons to be found
Crying for family
Love beckons to be seen
Lost, they wander in the shadows
Lost, they search for meaning
Lost, in homelessness they arrive
Lost, they hurry up and wait
A light shimmers
Glowing a little brighter
Guiding their broken vessel
A new dawn has come….
and a sparkle of hope is finally seen in their countenance…
The number of homeless veterans we house at Cornerstone Community Outreach fluctuates, with the highest percentage living in our single men’s programs. On any given night, veterans average between 15-20% of the single men residing in our facilities. Yet we also find a variable number of veterans scattered throughout our other programs; at this particular time, we know of 2 single women and a few men living our family programs; like presently, a father with his son and a grandfather staying with his wife and granddaughter.
But that’s not it, I’d be foolish to say that’s all we do: we also assist many other homeless veterans who are residing in uninhabitable places, such as parks, loading docks and abandoned buildings. For various reasons, many of these men and women find it difficult to live in crowded homeless shelters and prefer the relative peacefulness of the outdoors; of course, they’d ultimately prefer to be living in their own apartment. We also continue offering support and assistance to the veterans who have stayed in and have got support from Cornerstone, but now have their own apartments.
Each and every person who comes to Cornerstone immediately gets their intake done. In that initial assessment we discover if someone is a veteran. Each and every one is obviously eligible to all our available resources at CCO and the other agencies we network with, but we also actively collaborate with the Jesse Brown VA on Chicago’s west side. We remain in constant communication with each other. Through our phone calls, their outreach workers will visit our facilities and assist our veterans in applying for and receiving eligible benefits, medications, housing and any other needs. They also call us to help locate various homeless veterans they are having difficulty finding and are in the process of assisting. The VA’s housing specialists continue to assess all our veterans to see if they may be eligible for VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing), and we’ve been privileged to see a great deal of successful movement recently.
Edward got housed on July 12th (see photo) through this procedure. We called the VA outreach workers, who came to our facility and they discovered he was eligible for VASH. Within two months, Ed signed the lease and moved into his own apartment. We also assisted him by paying his security deposit (through networking with the Emergency Fund), and we were able to give him some household items, like a TV, dressers, food, other household items and we moved him in our truck.
It is important to note that Edward was not the only veteran we assisted within this last week. We ended up helping various men, with a wide range of different needs, and most of them are in the process of getting housed.
One Iraqi veteran only returned to American soil 6 months ago and ended up arriving homeless at CCO. Due to his experience overseas, he is an incredibly angry individual, suffering with PTSD and has already verbally threatened our security. He admitted to me about how his anger and flashbacks almost caused him to kill a young family member who aggravated him, so to prevent himself from doing a horrendous act of violence, he left and walked a very long distance until he arrived in Chicago, homeless! We were able to connect him with a VA outreach worker, so he can discover what is available to him holistically. One of our employees drove this gentleman to the Jesse Brown VA, so he can get registered, assessed and helped with whatever his needs are. Through this initial connection, his journey toward housing, employment, benefits, appropriate medication and mental stability has started.
Through this networking, every week we see many veterans moving toward their goals. This line of communication has been vital; whether it’s communicating with Dan, a Vietnam vet who lives on the street, and relaying very important messages from a housing specialist that is helping him inch closer and closer to his own place. Whether it’s contacting Ephraim and ensuring he gets to his appointments, or whether it’s getting the unconnected veteran Michael connected, who struggles with shrapnel in his legs, so he can find out if he’s eligible for anything. We provide all this for our veterans, along with everything else we offer all our clients at CCO; a safe place to lay their heads, 3 meals a day, caring and dedicated staff, case management and wrap-around services.
As I reflect on these wonderful human beings, I cannot help but mourn. I see pain, anger, confusion and distance tattooed upon their scarred bodies. I reflect upon on all the veterans who have entered Clifton Avenue, including those who have moved into their own apartments or have transitioned on, and I see the same scars again and again. I hear stories of courage, comradely, fear, abandonment and death, and their faces tell different, but similar, stories. When I read statistics on the Internet, it sadly reveals alarming and increasing numbers of PTSD, mental illness and suicide. In knowing and seeing all this, I weep, because our homeless veterans have often become disposable heroes! They have often been honored by word, but not by deed.
Helping, assisting and loving homeless veterans has nothing to do with our opinions on the rights and wrongs of war. It has nothing to do with which political party we may support. It has nothing to do with our opinions on Obama or Romney. It has nothing to do with our opinions on the military budget, the manufacture of more arms, recruitment tactics or the whole military industrial complex. Our opinions and debates on such issues often get in the way from seeing our scarred and hurting brother or sister beside us. This isn’t about opinions, this is about seeing all the pain and suffering around us, lending a hand and attempting to meet those needs. This is simply about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
This is a cry to love; to truly love, in both word and deed. Due to the unsightly scene of so many veterans living homeless, panhandling, addicted and / or mentally ill, these vets are often being ignored and forgotten, scorned and mocked, criminalized and ostracized, and have sadly been reduced to being among this country’s “least of these”. This is a cry to love these neighbors of ours; a cry that calls us to live out the words of Jesus, by…
….feeding our hungry veterans
….giving a drink to our thirsty veterans
….housing our homeless veterans
….clothing our naked veterans
….visiting our sick veterans
….visiting our incarcerated veterans
And by living out these words of Jesus, found in Matthew 25, HOPE and LOVE will come to our homeless veterans!