As part of American Morning series on veterans returning home I recently visited New Directions, a homeless shelter program in Los Angeles that has been helping addicted and troubled veterans since 1982.
Across the country there are now about 130,000 homeless veterans, many from the Vietnam era, but tragically some back from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown up on the streets. What we found is those who served in the Vietnam era are now reaching out a hand to the younger generation, doing what they can to make sure the youngest homeless vets get help.
If you saw our piece you might have noticed 60-year old Michael Anderson, a homeless vet who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972. He was sent to prison from 2006 to 2008 on domestic violence charges and while in prison began writing poetry—mainly about military service. At the end of this blog please take a moment to read “Where Broken Soldiers Go.” I think you will be amazed.
By the way, the reaction to the homeless veterans piece has been touching, and troubling—underscoring the tragedies that are occurring. New Directions tells me they have received many phone calls reacting to the piece. A woman in Connecticut called, she now wants to start a similar program. Veterans called the shelter just to say thank you for helping, others called wanting to know what they could send in the way of help.
But perhaps one of the most concerning ... A woman called saying her brother, a young veteran was last seen a couple of years ago in Los Angeles, troubled and demanding to be left alone. The family believes he is still out there on the streets homeless and they are desperate to find him. They thought maybe New Directions, which has its staff on the streets every day looking for homeless vets, might have seen him. The staff now has the man’s name and description and as they move around Skid Row and other homeless encampments around the city they will keep an eye out, and ask if anybody knows anything about this young veteran.
But there’s one place they won’t be able to ask. We went with New Directions to a dismal location under a Los Angeles freeway. Homeless Americans, including some veterans, had set up a tent and cardboard encampment there. One man we saw even had a broom and was sweeping and cleaning up when we visited with outreach workers from New Directions who came to pass out small bags of food and water on a brutally hot summer day. New Directions tells me the Los Angeles Police just dismantled the camp. No one can yet tell me where these homeless Americans have gone.
Now just read Michael Anderson’s latest poem and remember this homeless older Marine Corps veteran who still is coping with addiction, who served nearly forty years ago, still squares his shoulders, looks you in the eye and still says “Semper Fi.”