In Memoriam: National program lays to rest 1,000th homeless veteran

Civil Air Patrol member Nick Henry receives the flag from the coffin of Stevenson L. Roy, who passed away Dec. 16 in Portland. Roy was a homeless Vietnam veteran. No family could be located, but he was buried Jan. 25 by Dignity Memorial members in Willamette National Cemetery with full military honors. (Photo by Ken Hawkins)

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff writer

Stevenson L. Roy was not the first, and sadly, he will not be the last. But on Jan. 25, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Roy became a milestone. He was the 1,000th veteran laid to rest through a national program to fund indigent or homeless soldiers burials.

He died Dec. 16 in Portland and was buried with full military honors in Willamette National Cemetery. Taps was played, a 21-gun salute was delivered, and the flag was folded with precision.

There are more than 1,300 homeless veterans across Oregon, a disproportionate percentage to the population as a whole. In Multnomah County, veterans comprise 12 percent of the homeless population, according to 2011 count, but only 9 percent of the general population.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, with the motto, “Standing for those who stood for us.” (Photo by Ken Hawkins)

Roy was born Feb. 25 in Montgomery, Ala., the son of Forney and Miriam Roy. He was just a teenager when he entered the navy in San Diego, Calif., in 1969 as the conflict in Vietnam was ramping up. He served in the Vietnam Campaign during his 11 years in the navy, before being honorably discharged in 1980 with a Good Conduct Medal.

Roy, who has been homeless and was living in a subsidized housing unit at the end of his life, was interred with the help of the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program. The program gives military burials to homeless and indigent veterans, working with a network of member funeral homes and veterans cemeteries. The program has operated since 2000.

Lincoln Memorial Funeral Home, a member of the Dignity Memorial network, conducted the services. Patriot Guard Riders, in full biker regalia, bore flags for the ceremony. The Oregon Honor Guard and the U.S. Navy presented Roy’s flag to 12-year-old Nick Henry, a member of the Civil Air Patrol. The Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s office was unable to locate any family members for Roy.

Young members in the Civil Air Patrol attend the funeral of Stevenson L. Roy, a homeless Vietnam veteran. The emblem of the Patriot Guard Riders. (Photo by Ken Hawkins)

Roy is just one memorial for the nearly 67,500 homeless veterans, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development 2011 count, a reduction of about 8,000 since 2009. That was the year that Veterans Affairs launched an initiative to end homelessness among veterans within five years.

According to the VA, about 1.5 million veterans are at risk of becoming homeless due to poverty, a lack of a support network, and overcrowded or substandard housing. The situation is compounded by a lack of affordable housing, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and the disconnect with non-military networks, the VA says.

The procession to Willamette National Cemetery where Roy was buried as the 1,000th veteran served by the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program. (Photo by Ken Hawkins)

 

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