NEWS | Nov. 1, 2011

Service members unite to help homeless Vets

By Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Hudson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Hundreds of service members from Joint Base Charleston volunteered at the 12th annual Stand Down Against Homelessness at the Armory Park Community Center in North Charleston Oct. 27 and 28, and helped provide more than 2,000 homeless veterans with basic necessities.

The annual event, hosted by the Ralph H. Johnson Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center worked hand-in-hand with Goodwill Industries, providing medical and dental checks, clothing, food, haircuts, and job and legal counseling.

"Year after year we see so many from our community who are in need," said Dr. Hugh Myrick, Chief of Mental Health at the VA and Stand Down chairman. "It's really shocking to realize just how many people in the Charleston area, including women and children, who are either on the streets or close to it.

"This is probably one of the most rewarding things I get to do all year, so to see the amount of support we get from military members is absolutely unbelievable. Our service members are one of our biggest assets in supporting events like these," he continued. "There are so many that volunteered last year that are coming back to help because it's not only serving a great cause, but they really enjoy helping people - it is a very humbling experience."

One Airman who volunteered last year, said that he couldn't resist coming back and lending a hand to help out where needed.

"I believe in giving back to the community. This is my second year in a row volunteering for this event. I worked the security booth last year and I worked the color guard this year," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Seth Stockwell. "This event gives the homeless a few of the things they need to survive, whether it is a sleeping bag or a haircut. They provided for us and now we are providing for them." Stockwell is a command investigator at the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston.

The VA is the only Federal agency that provides hands-on assistance to homeless people with a mission to eliminate homelessness among those who have fought for our country. According to the VA, there are currently more than 150,000 homeless veterans struggling throughout the United States.

"I don't volunteer just for a number to put on a piece of paper; I volunteer because it's for a great cause and it makes me feel good," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenderick Minion, a hospital corpsman stationed at the Naval Health Clinic Charleston. "To be able to reach out and help others means a lot to me. Some of these people that come here can take a shower, have a hot meal or just in general provide themselves with the basic necessities of survival.

"I have a hard time understanding why veterans, who have fought for our country, are homeless. To see how far they've slipped below the cracks is very sad, but that is why I come out here - to show that I care and respect those who've gone before me defending our country. I feel that this is the least I can do for them," Minion said.

Others agreed, saying that the idea is horrifying, as some face an approaching retirement themselves.

"I am retiring soon so it's scary to think about the fact that each of these people who are coming to this event were once in my shoes - fighting for their country - fighting for all the families and freedoms of each American and now they're homeless," said Marine Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Clark, Officer-in-Charge of the Marine Detachment at NCBC. "I feel that as a fellow military member, they have paved the way for me so this is just one way I can show my appreciation to them."

In Charleston, the VA has an active Homeless Veterans program which provides health care, shelter, case management, rehabilitation and employment assistance to more than 100 veterans each day. This was the case for one VA worker, who says that the VA agency gave him hope and in his eyes, saved his life.

"For every person that comes to this event to receive services, I know where they are coming from - I've been there. I too was a homeless veteran, so I know just how much functions like these are appreciated. These events give veterans hope, something to look forward to," said Tyrone Ladson, a veteran of the Army and VA employee. "I'm just so appreciative that I was given a second chance and now I have been given the opportunity to give back and that's exactly what I plan on doing."

"Our responsibility is to heal the wounds of battle at the VA," said Myrick. "That is why we are doing everything we can to combat homelessness, even to the point of literally scouring under bridges and other locations where homeless persons gather to help those in need."