“I’m thankful to be alive,” answered Wilson, a homeless veteran with his homeless wife, “and I’m thankful to be in Fresno.”
“Huh, thankful to be in Fresno?” I ask back. Before he answered, I continued, “You must of bumped your head.”
Wilson replied, “Fresno is much better than anywhere in Arizona for a veteran.”
Every homeless veteran that I asked “What do you have to be thankful for?” replied with the same first answer, “I’m thankful to be alive.” About all that a homeless person has is his/her life here in Fresno even if you are a veteran.
The horrible thing is, it appears that there are cities, even entire states, worse than Fresno. According to Wilson, a homeless veteran who recently moved to Fresno from Arizona. Wilson explained that Fresno appeared to have more service providers willing to help a veteran if he was an alcoholic, suffering from drug addiction or has mental issues. Wilson fell in none of those categories, so now he is just another veteran. Oops, I’m sorry, just another homeless person, with a wife, living around the Poverello House, Rescue Mission area, and making the great City of Fresno look “bad.”
It brought back memories of myself being a homeless Vietnam veteran here in the streets of Fresno, living in a ditch. The only shelter I received was the Fresno County Jail. For example, I was recycling in the Park Side area and went to Roeding Park, where I was stopped by a police officer and taken to jail for bringing trash into the park. The recycling that I had collected was considered trash by that particular police officer, Kurt Smith.
At that time, I asked myself, “Should any veteran ever be homeless, other than by choice?” Every person that I have asked that question has said “No,” a veteran should never be homeless unless by choice.
Most cities in California will not even let a veteran be homeless in peace. Instead, most cities in the state continue to disregard a California Supreme Court ruling which states that a veteran may use any public place for shelter when necessary. My advice, from personal experience, is don’t try that in Fresno.
Recently, a Jehovah’s Witness, an elderly gentleman, “old school,” very nice in my opinion, stopped by my house, and the conversation of helping the needy came up. He proudly stood up to the plate, stating that there are 300 churches here in Fresno (actually about 500, I corrected him), and thatJehovah’s Witnesses from all over the United States got together and sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Haiti during the big disaster there. Good, I said. And here in Fresno, we have close to 20,000 homeless people, many of them veterans. How much did your congregation give to help the homeless here in your backyard? He looked at me speechless, trying to come up with a number. Finally, he said none that he knew of. It was just an oversight. So what are you going to do about it? I ask. His reply was “to be continued next week.” He is bringing back some people to speak with me.
“Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”
Many homeless veterans have changed the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner” from “the land of the free and the home of the brave” to “the land of the free because of the brave.” Reason being, too many war veterans are homeless. We would not want our national anthem to be a lie, now would we? Therefore, the change. Bumper stickers and posters already exist.
A recent study shows that 87,000 veterans live in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties. According to Kathryn Greenspan, housing specialist at the HUD headquarters in Washington, D.C., California was awarded $12,501,422 to permanently house 1,295 homeless veterans in May 2008. Per person that is $9,653.61. In October of this year, $526,500 from the Department of Veteran Affairs was to go to WestCare for 28 beds and a van. I think that is a lot of cash for a place that already exists. My complaint is there are numerous properties available between $500,000 and $2,000,000 that could house a great number of veterans who are homeless for reasons other than alcohol abuse, drug abuse or mental issues.
The author has spent 14 years homeless in Fresno without any help from programs, the Veterans Administration or the City/County of Fresno. Many veterans are still homeless in Fresno, especially those who aren’t suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction or mental issues. These are just veterans who fought for this country and made it home in one piece, intact and are now homeless.
Why are we not taking care of those who fought for this country so many of you who never went to war can have a home?