Homeless veterans tell their stories

“Faces of Homelessness” brought an emotional slide presentation and panel of local homeless military veterans to GW to share personal stories about life on the streets.

Wednesday night’s panel was the first at GW to spotlight homeless veterans. The event was sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. It kicked off National Hunger and Homelessness Week, which runs from Nov. 14 to Nov. 22.

homeless/Dan

The slide show portrayed the human side of homelessness. Michael Stoops, co-organizer of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who created the presentation, said he wanted to show how “people from all walks of life are affected by homelessness.”

He said 27 percent of the homeless population are children, and poverty can strike every race at every age.

Stoops said the ultimate goal of his presentation is to help students understand what causes people who risked their lives for their country to end up homeless.

Stoops said of the 750,000 homeless in America, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 are veterans. A lack of affordable housing, defaulted Veterans Aid loans, deficient treatment services and poor aid programs for veterans are often to blame when veterans are homeless, he said.

Homeless panelist Wayne Davis said overcoming drug and alcohol abuse is one of the most difficult obstacles that faces who live on the streets. He also said insufficient housing, bureaucratic red tape and the shame of poverty discourage the homeless from seeking help.

“Speak to us and encourage us and help us find the courage to move up,” Davis said.

“Anybody out there can become homeless,” said Larry Owens, another panelist and a Vietnam veteran. He encouraged students to reach out and help those who are on the streets.

“It could be you someday,” he said.

Homeless veteran John Holland said “loss of spirit” was the most difficult part of getting off the streets.

“With spirit, you can apply that as a means to improve your condition from the indignant way you are living,” he said.

Members of the panel said they felt it was important to speak out on Veterans Day because homeless veterans often are forgotten. Their appeal to students was particularly emotional, which several speakers said was the best way to get their message out. They urged students to reach out to those who need their help and not turn away when they came across homeless people on the street.

Jennifer Olson, homelessness fellow at the GW Office of Community Service and co-organizer of the “Faces of Homelessness” program, said strained resources in the D.C. area make student outreach important. The United States has four times as many animal shelters as havens for homeless women and children, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

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