We began 2015 with news that New Orleans has ended veteran homelessness. In Phoenix and Salt Lake City, chronic veteran homelessness reached zero in 2014. Across the country, local organizations are working closely to offer veterans a hand up out of homelessness.
Moderated by Rick Badie
Imagine serving in the U.S. military only to return home and eventually find yourself homeless. It happens often, but a national movement to end homeless here and elsewhere is making progress. I write about an auxiliary program of American Legion Post 207 that offers safety nets to homeless female veterans, while the head of a coalition gives a snapshot of state initiatives to address the issue.
Giving homeless vets a hand
By Rick Badie
Chiffon Thomas and her children’s holiday season was as thankful and merry as it could be. Things didn’t look like it would be before Thanksgiving; the military veteran was living in a transitional shelter, her six-month stay almost over.
Her condition changed right around the holidays; she got a job as an LPN for an East Point nursing home. The income allowed her to take advantage of a move-in special at a Stone Mountain apartment. And it was around this time the auxiliary unit of American Legion Post 207 in Tucker learned of her struggle toward self-sufficiency. It stepped up.
“It was totally awesome, and their timing was perfect,” said Thomas, a Louisiana native who served in non-combat Army operations. “The day before Thanksgiving, they bought me beds, living room furniture and household goods. At Christmas, they were fantastic as well. The kids got bikes and other gifts.”
A national initiative is afoot in Atlanta and beyond to get our servicemen and women off the streets and into permanent housing. The Tucker auxiliary is one of several local organizations involved in the effort.
In 1987, Thomas was a high school junior when she joined the Army through its delayed entry program. She served in non-combat roles that included a stint in El Salvador. Two marriages and four kids followed, and the last relationship landed her in a domestic violence shelter in Houston. She moved to Chicago, where she worked as an LPN before last year’s move to Atlanta to escape the cold and be near family.
But it took her longer than expected to get her state LPN license. Money ran out. The auxiliary learned about her struggles through its network.
“Our community organizations support our efforts, such as the Northlake Elks,” said auxiliary president Carol Ann Boyd. “We get the word out and partner with other organizations. We want to sponsor and adopt another family, but there’s only 25 or so active members in our unit.”
Now Thomas, with a stable job, public transit to get to it and a permanent roof over the heads of her and her son, 12, and daughter, 6, plans to show her gratitude by paying it forward, helping other homeless female veterans. She’s a complementary member of Post 207.
“They gave me so much. I feel guilty,” she said. “It was overwhelming. I don’t want to be greedy. I am trying to be self-sufficient, but they keep giving. I have been totally blessed. God has watched my steps.”
Her turnabout inspires Marty Boyd, post service officer and Carol Ann’s husband.
“I’m in a fact-finding stage to start a new charity,” the Vietnam Veteran told me. “I’d like a charity where veterans can get money for anything that makes them happy, to just fill the gaps other organizations don’t address. It could go nationwide easily.
“Like any fraternal organization, the Legion takes care of its own. The words ‘homeless’ and ‘veterans’ shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath.”
For more information about the auxiliary’s project, contact Carol Ann Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ending homelessness among our veterans
By Baylee Crone