Regarding Missoula’s Homeless Veterans

This was a comment to Rebecca’s post on the gruesome and horrific murder of Forrest Clayton Salcido, a Navy veteran and member of Missoula’s homeless community.

I contacted Ellie Hill, the Executive Director of Missoula’s Poverello Center, and received her permission to repost her comment as a way to promote awareness on the problems veterans face.

Once again, I urge everyone to support the Poverello in any way they can… Donations can be made by clicking here, and those with spare time and tight budgets can volunteer by calling the Poverello’s Volunteer Coordinator, Brady Warren, at 728-1809.

-Jamee Greer

* * *

I knew Forrest Clayton Salcido. He was gentle, and while small in statue, huge in heart. Mr. Salcido was brutally murdered as he desperately tried to flee his attackers. I was so ill this morning that I almost could not leave the house, but here I write from my cluttered desk at the Pov.

1 in 4 homeless people in the United States are veterans (while veterans make up only 11 percent of the general adult population).

Your homeless veterans in Missoula are no different. (And, actually here it may be worse as the State of Montana has the highest number of veterans per capita in the nation.)

At the Poverello Center, Western Montana’s largest emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, we serve hundreds and hundreds of homeless vets each year. There are many vets sleeping in our overcrowded bunks each and every night, 365 nights a year. They are men and women from all branches of services and representing many different wars. Elderly and middle aged men are most common. Many folks suffer from mental illness and physical disabilities. Some have only recently lost their jobs or their families. Some have been injured on the job, and they don’t have medical coverage. Their car has broken down. Some are much more down and out. They all have amazing life stories. Their problems are often complex.

At the Pov we are seeing an alarming trend in the number of younger homeless veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, turning to the Poverello Center’s VA sponsored Homeless Vets Program for necessary services, mainstream resources, treatment and job assistance.

I am writing because this trend does not bode well for our future.

According to the Veterans Affairs Department, 1500 homeless veterans are from the current wars.

It took about a decade for the lives of our Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point where this nation could no longer ignore their alarming visibility among our homeless populations. Speaking with our local vets, they believe that the intense, repeated deployments, coupled with this country’s extreme polarization about this war, leave our younger veterans in an extremely vulnerable state.

As Executive Director of the Pov, I am asked to educate Missoulians about poverty and homelessness often. I am honored to do it. The faces of homelessness are diverse. I speak before civics groups, classrooms; you name it. But I have observed that many people seem to want to hear about homeless kids, homeless women, and other marginalized demographics. We serve the many diverse faces of homelessness at our downtown facility. There is no doubt that they each need unique and expanded resources. But when I start talking about the number of homeless vets in Missoula, I feel a visceral lack of interest or understanding of their complex barriers to housing and employment (For example, the reaction some in our community recently had to what was viewed as a sudden increase in the number of our chronically homeless citizens panhandling downtown; letters to the editor referencing “the unwashed”.) It frustrates me.

These honorable men and women come home from horrific conditions, often without a job, often with strained family relationships, not to mention unspeakable injuries of the body and the mind. Some of these guys will tell you that they were not prepared at all to go back to a “civilian” life. Their money runs out. They stay in cheap motels. And they go to the Pov.

The latest VA numbers tell us that the Iraq vets seeking help from homeless shelters are more likely to be women, less likely to have substance abuse problems, but more likely to have mental illness – mostly related to post-traumatic stress. Overall, 45 percent of participants in the VA’s homeless programs have a diagnosable mental illness and more than three out of four have a substance abuse problem, while 35 percent have both.

As was outlined recently in the Missoulian, these trends are nothing new. Historically, a number of fighters in U.S. wars have become homeless. Todd DePastino, a historian at Penn State University’s Beaver campus, who wrote a book on the history of homelessness, found that in the post-Civil War era, homeless veterans sang old Army songs to dramatize their need for work and became known as “tramps,” which had meant to march into war.

After World War I, thousands of veterans – many of them homeless – camped in the nation’s capital seeking bonus money. Their camps were destroyed by the government, creating a public relations disaster for President Herbert Hoover.

The end of the Vietnam War coincided with a time of economic restructuring, and many of the same people who fought in Vietnam were also those most affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Which brings us to the early 1970’s and the birth of the Poverello Center. This community recognized a growing trend in local homelessness and they responded. The “Pov” was founded and is almost wholly sustained by every member of this community. We are not owned by a single church or by the government. In 2006, we had 19,000 volunteers. 68 folks a night sleep in the shelter bunks and up to 250 folks eat each day in the soup kitchen; or use the sack lunch program, clothing room, Partnership Health’s fantastic medical care and Western Montana Mental Health’s critically needed social workers.

The Pov also runs a nationally recognized transitional housing program, the Valor House, which it operates with proven success, thanks to collaboration with the Missoula Housing Authority and the Veterans Administration. The Valor House has a waiting list of homeless veterans seeking admission into the program. It truly can break the cycle of homelessness (the program is consistently full at 17 veterans).

In this time of obvious divisiveness about this war, please remember our homeless vets. There are so many of them down at the Pov. The Pov belongs to this community. It is yours. I urge anyone interested to come take a tour with me, have lunch and meet these brave men and women.

(I am writing today to honor my Navy veteran father Mike Boldman who served in Vietnam, my Navy grandfather Guy Boldman who in served in World War II, my Army great grandfather Amel Boldman who served in World War I; my cousin Curt Boldman who leaves for Iraq this Christmas and my only brother Chris Boldman who is a U.S. smokejumper and now serves proudly oversees in the United States Peace Corps.)

I pray for them, for the family of Forrest Clayton Salcido, and we all must pray for peace.

Ellie Hill

Executive Director

Poverello Center

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  1. Jedediah Redman

    I think all servicemen have been essentially without education.
    Its simply that after WWII, vets had an opportunity to change that by taking advantage of the GI Bill…

  2. Homeless Veteran MT

    GI BILL, Right! Hey Jedediah Redmond… the next time you choose to open your mouth first pause and wonder if maybe you should first walk in the Homeless Veterans Shoes and hear their “Individual” life stories. They’ve earned that much “They Did There Time!” They’ve each arrived here at this point in life by “Different” paths and situations. It’s that very attitude you show here that is causing these once proud individuals to become HOMELESS VETERANS. In a perfect world YOU are right! The programs out there for Vets should help them stay clear of homeless shelters and off the streets. Unfortunately it is not a perfect world! It is a world full of Vices and Greed! And more often than not… our society is a cruel and callous society… that chooses to ignore and shun the meek in their moment of need and compassion. edited by jhwygirl Jebediah Redmond! From an Once Proud Veteran! A Security Forces Sergeant! Who broke his back on the job and had to go into the streets from a Lack of proper Medical Assistance by the States and Homeless Assistance by the Federal Government he once served. It’s people like you that are more a part of the problem, rather than the solution!

    Signed: One Pissed Off Vet!

    By the way I am no longer Homeless! I sued the Federal Government and won my right to my disability benefits. It’s called a Federal “TORT CLAIM” and you file it in Federal District Court to all of you Homeless Veterans out there in need of Help! Your Local State Vet Rep can help you get started or the local Legal Aid Society in your town. Make them help you! They are all lazy and sloths… so push them to help you that is what they get paid to do!

    Good Luck & God Bless! Strength, Respect and Honor! Semper Fi

    this piece was edited, minimally, by jhwygirl. The content and intent remains intact.

  3. August

    All the VA does is label the homeless veterans mental and addicted, run them through the forced 12 step witchcraft religion and never-ending “how do you feel” therapy” and then throw them out to the streets again. The veteran will go to another city and start the same thing all over again. Homeless veterans need real housing (not bunk beds & shared showers), real training (not life skills) and real jobs (not dead-end min wage crap). It is a sad time in the US.

  4. Silver

    I am a Homeless veteran, I do have experience with the Poverello center and the homeless veterans program being ran there.

    The first question I have for those of you that are not homeless veterans, is this. Would you pay 1,120 dollars a month to live in a homeless shelter, in which you are not able to shower at your convienience, nor keep some clean clothes uner your mattress for quick access, nor ly down when you are hurting or ill. Of course you wouldnt, yet this is what is being asked of veterans at the poverello.

    Dont get me wrong here, this is not technically an attack on the poverello center itself, this is about the veterans administration and its failure to find a better use of the 1,120 dollars per diem a month that it pays the poverello per month per veteran, just 10 vets at the Pov brings it a tiddy sum of 11,200 a month.

    If given the chance I could go to the newspaper and find a rental for around 640 dollars a month saving tax payers 480 a month, multiply by 10 and the vets could save tax payers 4,800 a month. These figures are just working numbers and does not reflect adequately the number of vets currently at the Pov, I do however know there is more than 10.

    Part of my mental condition is that I dont like being in crowded places, especially where many may fly off the handle at any given moment over the smallest of things. So it is that I have found the only way to keep this place from profiting off of me is to stay on the streets.

    The last poster said it all when they wrote, “Homeless veterans need real housing (not bunk beds & shared showers), real training (not life skills) and real jobs (not dead-end min wage crap). It is a sad time in the US.”

    If any one would like to challenge me on this I would ask first and formost withdraw 1,120 dollars from your bank, give it to the pov then live there yourself for a month, I believe your perspective will be changed.

    You may want to say, but your not paying it the government is. I would respond with this.

    A good friend gives you a trip on a cruise ship, you go on the cruise but the cruise line treats you as if you were a deck hand. So you say to the cruise line hey a lot of money was spent on this ticket and I dont see where I am getting anything for the price paid. The Cruise line responds back that it was not you that paid for the ticket and there for you have no rights as a customer. The fact that it is not me paying the 1,120 is irrelavent to the fact that some one is profiting off my homelessness and Im not really getting anything out of this deal, plus I thought the program was about helping homeless vets not some buisness.

    • I know it isn’t always the situation, but isn’t the Poverello dealing with a large percentage of clients that would not enter regular housing for any variety of reasons?

      That 1,120/mo. equates to 13440 per year – minimum wage in Montana is 7.35/hr, which equates out to 1,176/mo., 15,288/yr. Min. wage income would be taxed by both state and federal, FICA.

      I don’t know specifics of finances or even how the Pov actually runs, but I will absolutely say I support what they do. That being said, if the Povs funding in part comes from 1,120 per month for veterans they assist – and even if it doesn’t currently come with locker space or even all-day shelter space, I’d say it is still serving maximum service for the cost.

      To be clearer – I don’t think anyone’s getting rich working at or running the Pov.

      The Pov and its board and advocates in the community – and even the City and County governments – are working together to find a larger place for the shelter so that it can provide greater services. I truly hope it happens – sooner the better.

      The Pov needs space for all sorts of stuff – and I’m sure locker space and some day-time living space is on the wish list.

  1. 1 Regarding Missoula’s Homeless Veterans | iraq veteran stories

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