The Los Angeles Mission is proud to support our veterans who have fallen on hard times and become homeless. Our Snapshot Survey shows 9% of those we serve are veterans; 1% of those are women. 50% served in WWII and the remainder in wars since. 15% are Vietnam Veterans and 23% Persian Gulf War vets.
Each war has its unique casualties. Each group has those who struggle to return and fit into society. Many bring back addictions and mental health challenges not acknowledged previously. Homelessness seems the end result when the Veterans Administration cuts them off or denies their claims. Let me quickly say that the Veterans Administration is getting much better at recognizing issues and providing benefits, but this was not always the case. Recent federal initiatives have led to better integration with the service provider community and less of a fortress mentality with the VA.
One very encouraging development is the President’s Opening Doors initiative which places a focus on ending homelessness amongst our veteran’s population. This is a long overdue move for many who gave their best years to serve our country and now roam our streets.
Each soldier has their story too. One of my most memorable moments was to read letters from my Dad to my Grandmother after he passed on. I found a man who served his country in Korea but also served those who were deployed by staying up nights giving emotional, spiritual and physical care to many who were terrified to move to the front. Many of these men became life-long friends that I rarely knew. He went on to use this gift as a Pastor serving not just veterans, but their families as well. And while he was deployed he sent back almost all his earnings to help a widowed mother raising 6 other children on a meager social security pension who from time-to-time in our current definitions would have been homeless – living from relative to relative in the early years of their journey. Glad for the handouts of others and the food subsidies available to this wife of a WWI veteran.
He reminds me of Billy Zimmerman, a recent veteran graduate or our Fresh Start Program. Billy unfortunately became an alcoholic during his service. He returned home to end up homeless from his addiction, estranged from family and without hope. But, with the help of the Los Angeles Mission and his determined optimism to succeed, Billy today is reunited with his family, employed and is the Vice President of our LAM Alumni Association – continuing his military tradition of honor and service. His story can be found in more detail on our website: losangelesmission.org. Billy is frequently around the Mission headed to a funeral or other event proudly wearing his dress uniform.
This leads me to my point on Veterans Day. We must honor, respect and care for our veterans who served this country. But, we must not forget those left behind, many of whom lost their husbands/wives, fathers/mothers, brothers/sisters or sons and daughters for the cause of liberty. These too are casualties of war. Many of those left behind faced great challenges alone and many ended up on our streets homeless or in poverty.
On Veterans Day let’s be grateful to those who served and for those who supported their service as well. And, whether a veteran or not let’s focus the same attention and national pride by fighting the war against homelessness with just as much passion, support and financial backing as we fight against ideologies and aggression abroad. Then we can all agree we Opened Doors that mattered, we are all veterans of the fight for equality and justice for all.
-Herb Smith, President