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Reaching Out To The Homeless
Reaching Out to the Homeless...
by John Ely
Veterans’ Outreach is very grateful to all those that have donated in 2011. Through your generosity, we have been able to help veterans more than 3,200 times- a large number of folks worthy of our attention. Furthermore, this number doesn’t include the many veterans and their families that have benefited from our free give-away goods that have been donated to our offices.
Veterans' Outreach has only scratched the surface, determining how to assist each individual veteran through a personal interview process. Housing, utilities, car repairs, etc are all available to those in need.
On Friday, December 23, 2011 we tried something new after a veteran notified us of a group of homeless vets living in the immediate region. We collected sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, toilet tissue, other toiletries, as well as food items and took them to their reported camp along a river situated in a very obscure spot in Mahoning County. We knew their favorite item, by far, would be the toilet tissue - it was like gold to them. So we brought enough for what we were later told amounted to a years supply. At one time it was reported that there were 17 men living at the site we were headed too.
When Veterans’ Outreach arrived in the afternoon, there were only five men at the camp and two were in the hospital. A Fox News Station wanted to follow us down to do a story on these homeless veterans, however the men said they would not give any interviews and waved them off. They were very private people, camera shy and very much wanted to be left alone. Luckily, they allowed us to take a few pictures and a short video to document their courageous struggle… not too much to alarm those folks though.
When Veterans’ Outreach arrived, we were warmly greeted by Tony. Tony, this colorful character and orator of the group, gave some interesting history of the homeless camp and himself. He had previously worked in construction and had developed the skills that helped him put together the makeshift camp. He artfully built a brick smoker/barbecue from salvaged bricks used for food and heating. Having served in Panama, after he came back, Tony almost died in a terrible motorcycle accident. He horribly mangled his legs, his chest was crushed, and it was all compounded with his head trauma. Tony survived and is truly a magnificent character and a pleasure to speak with. The other vets weren't as talkative and just were happy to let Tony do the entertaining.
The lean-to camp was only an 8’ x 10’ structure with a tarp roof. It was only big enough to sleep in- that would have been a stretch for 5 men. The veterans said some of the supplies that they would put under the lean-to would get washed away or ruined by the river swelling or from the excessive rain. There was no electricity or outhouse. The river was their only bathing facility and the only source of running water! The men seemed to be content for the time being, but their pride wouldn’t allow for anything else.
Over all, these veterans were hospitable and very grateful for the items Veterans’ Outreach brought them. Tony showed his gratitude by sharing a bite of their evening meal with us. He took out a long serrated knife, that even Rambo would have been impressed with! He made a quick up and down motion with it and sliced off a piece of barbecued blackened sausage link. It was Tony's own home-caught, home-prepared deer and pig smoked sausage.
He speared the cut piece firmly in the middle, with his Rambo knife, and thrust it towards me with a smile of pride. I proceeded to gingerly remove the smoky sausage from the blade and took a cautious bite. It wasn't bad...I kept on thinking, for not having refrigeration or even a handi-wipe that he would have used before its preparation!
Tony smiled graciously as he sipped his last warm beer.
I palmed what was left of my sausage in a napkin, wondering if I should get my souvenir analyzed. I found out later that I had smudged my camera lens with the sausage making it difficult to capture the rest of the eventful visit.
Tony interjected that these gifts were right on time for his birthday and his Christmas! Mr. Bob, as Bob Julian’s clients call him, reached into his pocket for a business card, shaking Tony’s hand with it palmed while saying, "I'll see ya' later!" Tony responded knowingly, "I know where you are!" We wished him an early Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.
Tony was giving handshakes and hugs and when I grasped and held his hand, for a longer time than normal, a tear glistened from his eye and I shared one back at him. He knew that I wanted to bring he and his friends back with me. It was like he was reading my mind. He looked at me and said, “I know we will be ok,” and he winked as we departed. After sharing a few stories and life’s challenges, we headed back to our civilization.
Veterans’ Outreach will continue to visit these camps and record our findings. We will help as much as we can and tell their stories. We will continue to search for ways to help them more and build trust. These are some of the first steps that we can take to better understand their plight and stop the manifestations of the homeless- especially our beloved and courageous vets!
God Bless all of our vets in need!
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