By Ms. Marie Berberea (TRADOC)September 14, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Fort Sill Soldiers posted up Sept. 11, ready for duty. While they remembered the fallen, they also worked to help the forgotten. More than 200 volunteers with Association of the U.S. Army took to different stations and streets across Lawton-Fort Sill to help homeless veterans as part of the "I Count" campagin.
"This point in time survey is just an instance of demonstrated commitment and continuity that the link between those who have served, those who are serving, and those who will serve is not broken," said Nate Slate, AUSA Fires Chapter chairman.
Seventy five organizations including the Soldier Family Council, and Southwest Oklahoma Continuum of Care for Lawton Support Services focused on 16 counties to discover the needs of those living on the streets and those who are couch homeless.
"There are folks that are living with someone but they don't have a house of their own. For instance if your brother was a veteran and he came back from a deployment he couldn't find work and he couldn't afford housing, but obviously you're not going to have your brother on the street so he's staying at your house," said Slate.
The idea for the survey came about after the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 751 brought up the number of homeless veterans in the area.
"We couldn't get our arms around the magnitude of the problem," said Slate.
Slate said while last year's point in time survey set the foundation for this year's, the community support will drive more accurate measurements by raising awareness.
"We recently had a gentleman call in and self-report. He lives in a school bus and he didn't see it in the paper. He didn't know anything about it, but his neighbors did. To a large extent this gentleman is symbolic of the challenge. He's a good guy, honorable guy. His neighbors like him, he's just fallen on hard times," said Slate.
Volunteers trained for the event since last week in how to approach the homeless and how to make sure they stay respectful during the survey.
"As a volunteer our goal is to get as much information as possible. At the same time when you walk into a back lot ... what's an empty lot for you or an abandoned building for you is actually their home. So when you go into these situations you need to be respectful of their home. What is the old saying? What's one man's trash is another man's treasure," said Jervis Jackson, Lawton Support Serices continuum of care director.
The count began just after midnight and lasted a full 24 hours. Shelters reported whom they had in their care and volunteers went out in the community offering free food vouchers and goody bags with hygiene products. In exchange they asked those who needed the items if they are a veteran and how they've been living.
"They think asking for help would say they're weak and they're not weak. They served their country and they had a tough break in life," said Taylor Poindexter. "We will be practicing our warrior ethos of never leaving a fallen comrade behind. They used to stand in our formation and then something happened."
Joshua Summers and Christopher Jordan came across several homeless people in a small area of downtown Lawton.
"One man said he's been homeless for 21years," said Jordan. "He told us he's been living in people's backyards, in the woods. His main thing is trying to find a house now for the winter."
Once the "I Count" campaign heads calculate the findings they will have a stand down day to bring all possible VA services together at once to help the veterans get back on their feet.
"The notion was if you brought the care providers together there would be synergies. They would see how they could help each other and you would discover what people's challenges were," said Slate.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA reached an agreement to establish the count as the definitive federal estimate of veteran homelessness. The VA also announced plans to end veteran homelessness by 2015 and made $100 million in grants available to communities nationwide.
For information on the count, or to recommend someone who should be counted, visit www.swok coc.org or call 595-0636.
Campaign volunteers urge every veteran to register with the VA, even if they don't expect to claim benefits. Military personnel who left the service after 1981 can do so online at www.ebenefits.va.gov.