Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Some thanks

Jay Stevens of Left in the West brings some tragic and infurating news:

Last Wednesday, two Missoula men - one, a senior at Hellgate High - stomped to death [a] homeless Navy veteran, Forrest Clayton Salcido, near the California Street footbridge. The attack was unprovoked and random.

When this was reported on the Missoula, MT blog 4&20 Blackbirds, the director of Missoula's Poverello Center, a place that provides "food, shelter, help and hope" to the homeless population of Missoula, left a very moving comment that I thought deserved to be propagated.

A (fairly long) excerpt from the whole post at 4&20 Blackbirds:

At the Poverello Center, Western Montana’s largest emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, we serve hundreds and hundreds of homeless vets each year. There are many vets sleeping in our overcrowded bunks each and every night, 365 nights a year. They are men and women from all branches of services and representing many different wars. Elderly and middle aged men are most common. Many folks suffer from mental illness and physical disabilities. Some have only recently lost their jobs or their families. Some have been injured on the job, and they don’t have medical coverage. Their car has broken down. Some are much more down and out. They all have amazing life stories. Their problems are often complex.

At the Pov we are seeing an alarming trend in the number of younger homeless veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, turning to the Poverello Center’s VA sponsored Homeless Vets Program for necessary services, mainstream resources, treatment and job assistance.

I am writing because this trend does not bode well for our future.

According to the Veterans Affairs Department, 1500 homeless veterans are from the current wars.


As Executive Director of the Pov, I am asked to educate Missoulians about poverty and homelessness often. I am honored to do it. The faces of homelessness are diverse. I speak before civics groups, classrooms; you name it. But I have observed that many people seem to want to hear about homeless kids, homeless women, and other marginalized demographics. We serve the many diverse faces of homelessness at our downtown facility. There is no doubt that they each need unique and expanded resources. But when I start talking about the number of homeless vets in Missoula, I feel a visceral lack of interest or understanding of their complex barriers to housing and employment (For example, the reaction some in our community recently had to what was viewed as a sudden increase in the number of our chronically homeless citizens panhandling downtown; letters to the editor referencing “the unwashed”.) It frustrates me.

These honorable men and women come home from horrific conditions, often without a job, often with strained family relationships, not to mention unspeakable injuries of the body and the mind. Some of these guys will tell you that they were not prepared at all to go back to a “civilian” life. Their money runs out. They stay in cheap motels. And they go to the Pov.

Any American should be ashamed when reminded of this information. I would like to note that the statistics given are somewhat misleading, as Idaho blogger Bubblehead notes:

The report says that the suicide rate for veterans in 2005 was 18.7 per 100,000, and claims the rate for Americans as a whole is 8.9. That's over twice the frequency! They don't mention, however, that men actually succeed in suicide at a rate about 4 times that of women, so the actual rate for men as a whole is closer to 18 -- not really much of a statistical difference if we assume the vast majority of veterans are men. (In the same way, the over-representation of veterans among the homeless is lessened if we compare homelessness numbers by gender, since men are over three times more likely to be homeless.)

I can't say that I agree that with Bubblehead that the skewed numbers make veterans "look bad." While they exaggerate, they aren't a complete fabrication. Anyway, I don't think homelessness or susceptibility to severe symptoms of mental illness reflect poorly on an individual. In fact, I would say these numbers make the non-veteran population (that includes me) look bad, for uprooting if not taking the lives of fellow American citizens, and shrugging when we walk by them sick, hungry, and lying on the street. That is, when we're not murdering them outright.

Donations can be made to the Poverello center here.

Cross-posted at Cogitamus.

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