Regarding Missoula’s Homeless Veterans
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.
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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.