Homeless Veterans get a day of relief
By Michael Isam
St Augustine, FL
There is a regime to daily life that begins with the rising of the sun; it is a lifestyle reminiscent of military life where the day is mapped out for you, minus the “3 hots and a cot” guarantee.
Saturday at the Elks Lodge on Anastasia Island, the St Johns County Veterans Service Office held a special event for homeless veterans who are struggling to assimilate back into society — with varying degrees of success.
“The turnout is the largest in current memory,” said service officer Heather Andrews. She should know, she has been coordinating these events for the past 6 years.
“Veterans are homeless for many reasons,” said Andrews. “Many of them just can’t deal with society and society can’t deal with them either.”
In many ways, even with all the breakthroughs in treatment, the stigma of the returning veteran and mental health is still there, according to Andrews.
Not all have issues of mental health. They are not crazy. They just cannot cope and the stresses of “normal” life are more than they can deal with at any one time.
According to one veteran, who wished to remain one of the nameless faces in the crowd, “There are places to go for food, but I have to be there early. To be there early, I have to be organized. That means up, cleaned, belongings packed and on the road in less than twenty minutes.”
Those belongings are scarce. Packed in a bundle fitting on a bicycle or a backpack are a few changes of clothes, a bedroll, and now, thanks to the stand down, an actual folding GI cot.
The veterans were met by a cadre of volunteers who handled sign in, backpacks for new items, teams from the VA to assist with benefits, legal aid, showers, clean clothes, gloves, cots, bedrolls, jackets, boots and more.
The continuous stream of “Thank You, God Bless You” was met with a constant stream of “Thank you for your service and wish we could do more”.
After the shower, vets got haircuts, a dental check-up, podiatry, and finally, food. Hotdogs and hamburgers were the fare of the day, and water, lots of water.
“I’m going to hibernate for a week,” said Andrews, “I have so many organizations to thank for their assistance. It is sometimes overwhelming to see the out-pouring for these folks. The constant source of assistance from every veteran organization, not only in the county, but statewide, is …” Andrews walked away, unable to speak.
After hibernation, comes the post-mortem of this event and plans anew for next year.