Susan Oliver clearly recalls the nights, years ago, she slept on her duffle bag in the rain on the streets of Houston.
“I slept in a box once, and I slept outside of a church one time,” she said, describing the years following her separation from the Navy as “not so good.” “It was just day to day,” she said.
The 55-year-old was one of the 253 homeless veterans and nearly 500 needy veterans who came to Operation Stand Down 2010 Saturday at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. Hosted by the South Atlantic Center for Veterans Education and Training Inc., the event featured 158 organizations offering aide to veterans. They were examined for dental and health problems and got haircuts. The list also included representatives from Veterans Affairs and other government agencies, churches, colleges and employment agencies.
“When you go and serve your country, you deserve a certain amount of respect, but people don’t seem to care,” said Richard Williams, a homeless veteran who entered the military at 17 and served three years.
He said his downward spiral began during his service and life has been difficult since.
“I was introduced to a lot of drugs in the military,” he said. “I was young and naïve. Since I’ve been out, I’ve hit bottom a couple of times.”Now living in a homeless shelter in Montgomery, Ala., the 58-year-old said he came to the event for guidance as he tries to “get back on track.” Earnest Bozeman, 37, who served nearly four years, said he encourages other veterans to seek assistance at events like Saturday’s stand down.“There are a lot of veterans who really need help, and they don’t know what to do,” Bozeman said.
He said stand downs are really beneficial because of the information and guidance you can receive.
Several Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, helped serve breakfast.
Officer Candidate Ryan Conway of D Company said Saturday was the first time he had ever spoken to a homeless veteran.
“It’s a humbling experience,” he said. “It’s sad because they were where we are (now).”
Like him, Romal Holder, who served eight years in the Army, said he joined SACVET’s board of directors to give to other veterans the helping hand he received.
Holder is now a minister and works for MEA Federal Credit Union, and he said a network of support made the difference for him.
“We can’t fix everything or everybody,” Holder said.
“But as long as we touch some, it’s (worth it). That what it’s all about.”