By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (August 25, 2013) – Boots, sleeping bags, rain gear, backpacks, clothes and more were the finds of the day for many homeless Veterans.
It was an extremely busy day that began 24 hours earlier with setting up tables and getting items ready for a new home.
No, it was not the grand opening of a brick and mortar store. It was volunteers getting ready for the annual Homeless Veteran Stand Down.
(A note to my readers - In this article and in the photos that go along with it, I do not use names of the homeless and I attempt to not photo their faces out of respect.)
“The numbers appear slightly lower at this year’s stand down,” said Joe McDermott, the Senior Veteran Service Office for St. Johns County. “We are not sure why until we can look over the numbers, but at first reading, this is a good thing.”
For 5 years Heather Andrews of the St. Johns County Veteran Service Office has spearheaded and coordinated the event. “I did not do it alone,” said Andrews. “I had some very great people with me all the way. Help from the Veterans Administration in St. Petersburg to obtain surplus supplies is an added Godsend.”
Adding to the myriad of VA personnel, were volunteers from almost every veteran organization in, and outside, St. Johns County. Some came from as far South as Melbourne and as far West as Interlachen.
During the busy time, amid all the noise and haste, there were always times when two or three veterans were huddled together and talking. In the Veteran community there is the phrase, “There but for the grace of God, and help from my comrades, go I.” Yes, civilians say it too, but for a Veteran, it takes on special meaning.
Tough circumstances for a civilian are one thing, but then, toss in war and it goes to another level. “One thing that amazes me still, to this day, 40 plus years later,” said a Vietnam Veteran “is with all the research and articles about the effects of war, there are people who think a ‘little blue pill’ cures you.” I wonder sometimes,” he added, “if we are really on the same planet in the same time and dimension.”
“I don’t want your pity,” said one homeless Veteran, “I just need a little help from time to time.” “I choose to live the way I live to escape the steady stream of energy from ‘normal’ people.” “Yes, I hear voices, I have for many years.” “At least,” he added “those voices tell me the truth and have only one face.”
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said a homeless mother of 3. “Just a little respite means so much. Most of all, a HOT shower, all by myself,” she added. “It takes me back to a time before children when I could just soak in the tub.” “Bless you all!”