Tag Archives: Veterans

One veteran uses his experiences to connect with the next generation

robertbrittmug-copy_WEBBy Robert Britt

I met Brian Bland just before Veterans Day.

Brian, a former Marine Corps corporal who served two deployments in Iraq, had been invited to Reynolds High School in Troutdale, just east of Portland. The school was hosting a Living History Day, a day devoted to recognizing area veterans and inviting them to share their stories with the student body.

All our modern wars were represented: WWII, Korea, Vietnam — each veteran sharing their story with the students. Brian, at 30 years old this month, took his place that day as a representative of our new generation of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his two tours to the Middle East earning him his seat.

In front of a class of about 15 students, Brian had at his flank three survivors of the war in Vietnam. And after one told his story of being at sea aboard the USS Oriskany the day a fire killed 44 of his shipmates in 1966, it was Brian’s turn to share his story.

BrianBlandMAIN-copy_WEBHe had joined the Marine Corps in mid-2001 and was in boot camp on 9/11. Trained as a combat engineer, he deployed to Kuwait in 2003 and his unit was among those to breach the Iraqi border for the invasion forces that March. Continue reading

Veterans could soon join ranks of specialty courts

By Robert Britt, Staff Writer

It’s Wednesday morning at the Clark County courthouse in Vancouver, Wash., and Navy veteran Eric Vance stands before the district court judge. Appearing in the middle of the day’s hurried docket, Vance requests that two bench warrants stemming from a DUII charge be quashed in exchange for his application to the county’s veterans treatment court.

Down the hall, retired Army command sergeant major Norm Hayes is finishing his monthly check-in with the veterans court. There is nothing hurried in this courtroom. Along with a dozen or so other veterans, Hayes appears before the judge to talk about how treatment is going. The meetings are going well. He even went on a weekend trip recently. When Hayes is finished, the judge — who greets each of the court’s participants by first name — steps down from behind his bench to present Hayes with a court mug as the room fills with applause. Continue reading

Extra! Exra!

Even the busiest weekend plans have room for friendly smile and a good read. So swing by the local turf tomorrow morning and pick up the latest edition of Street Roots. Your vendor will thank you and you’ll be glad you’ve got your copy before they sell out! Here’s what’s rolling on the press now:

Natalie Merchant: An discussion with the former 10,000 Maniac’s front woman about her life today, her passion for music for all ages, and her latest tour.

Veterans could soon join ranks of specialty courts: Multnomah County is preparing to start a special veterans-only docket to address the circumstances behind former soldiers caught up in criminal behavior. Service providers who to learn why so many veterans who had no problems in the service, return to enter our criminal justice system.

Lenders bypass foreclosure mediation law: Created to help keep Oregonians in their homes, the state program appears thwarted by bank tactics.

Realtors’ constitutional rewrite: The national push to end real estate transfer taxes has one real estate agent crying foul.

Plus, commentaries by police activist Jo Ann Hardesty and Portland Police Chief Mike Reese on the latest report on the Portland Police Bureau, words of wisdom from Mel Favara and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and more news and poetry from the homeless front. Get your edition early, and spare a smile or two for your fellow reader. Thank you!

Housing veterans, local numbers fall short

By Robert Britt, Staff Writer

When Army veteran Mark Townsend left the military service in the early ’70s, a decades-long battle with substance abuse and homelessness was just beginning.

Addiction marred Townsend’s transition to civilian life and reduced him to living what he calls a “life of drinking and using.” That life led to legal troubles, mental health issues and a lack of stable housing.

Townsend, now 54, says he repeatedly tried to get help. “I’ve been in and out of the VA several times, trying to get clean and sober, and couldn’t.”

Last August, he entered a residential substance abuse treatment program and was soon told of a federal program that could get him into subsidized housing while providing counseling and treatment for his addiction.

The Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (VASH) is a two-pronged approach to reduce homelessness among veterans. It couples government-subsidized rental vouchers from local, public housing authorities with case-managed assistance and clinical care provided by VA medical centers. When created, the program tasked a VA system already strained from the rising number of returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — with the new responsibility of managing a supportive housing program. Continue reading

Life after war through photography

Robert Britt, Contributing writer

It took 60 years for local photographer Jim Lommasson’s father to share his stories from combat in World War II, and now the son is working to ensure that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan do not wait to share their experiences with war.
Lommasson — a photographer, oral historian and author — is leading a public discussion on April 25 about veterans’ combat experiences as part of the Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project.

Christopher Arendt is a former Guantanamo Guard. "People look at the NAZI concentration camps and wonder, how can you do something like that? It's really easy. It's a simple thing. You make one wrong decision and you spend the rest of your life explaining that decision. I've barely made any choices in my life, and then I ended working in a concentration camp."

Continue reading

Two veterans w/PTSD work together to transcend homelessness

Joe Holness, an Iraq war veteran helped another young vet into housing and is now working toward becoming a counselor for those yet to come home.

From the Dec. 25 edition of Street Roots

It manifests itself differently in different people. For Joe Holness it was anxiety, a constant need to be on the move. It was frustration and intolerance in the face of obstacles and crowds. Even a trip to Wal-Mart could be debilitating. For Neils Roley it set in as anger and a feeling that no one understood, which led to violent situations, and eventually homelessness and drug use. The nightmares, however, are common ground, a place where even comforting old memories could be hijacked by the violence of the war.

Both were combat veterans a generation apart – Joe in Iraq and Neils in Afghanistan – and post traumatic stress disorder complicated their lives in ways they say people who haven’t been there, haven’t seen what they’ve seen, could truly comprehend. So when Neils showed up at Joe’s house on a cold and rainy night in November, bloody and beaten from an attack on his camp, Joe was there to listen, to talk through what they each had experienced overseas and upon their return. It was a series of conversations that lasted nearly three weeks, while Neils lived at Joe’s home, and ended this month with Neils in housing, and with both veterans on a course toward ensuring a better homecoming for those who have yet to return. Continue reading

Veterans arriving on the streets not who you think

Rick Stoller

(Rick Stoller, who directs the Harbor Lights shelter, says it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find appropriate affordable housing for veterans.)

Shock Waves from the May 29 edition of Street Roots

It’s a warm, still May afternoon as people mill around the curb outside a downtown shelter, and Tyrone Brown, a fiery Vietnam veteran with a baseball cap and greying goatee, is pissed off.
“We got this country free,” he says, gesturing toward other veterans who are staying in the Glisan Street Shelter or, like him, waiting for a space in it. “What are we doing being homeless?”

Veterans have long been a large segment of the U.S. homeless population. There are no perfect estimates of how many veterans are on the streets, but by several accounts, the number is on the rise — especially for older veterans like Brown.

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs estimates that there are 2,042 veterans experiencing homelessness on any given night in the Portland service area, which includes Vancouver. That’s up from 1,790 in 2006.

Portland’s One Night Street Count, which surveys people who were homeless on a given night in January, found 192 veterans this year compared with 108 in 2007. The jump far outpaces the increase in the overall street count, which only grew by about 10 percent.

Though some of those new to the streets are younger veterans recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, the vast majority are 45 and older. Roughly a quarter said they’d been homeless for less than one year. Older veterans were becoming new to the streets.

John Means of Central City Concern’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project says their employment program is seeing more and more clients who are new to the streets. Two years ago, Means says, most of their clients were veterans considered chronically homeless, and they’d see the same people come back multiple times.

“Over the last year, maybe year and a half, newer people have come in,” Means says. “Now we’re getting a lot of people (who are) six months, seven months, eight months homeless.”

For Larry, a 48-year-old Marine Corps veteran who didn’t want his last name used, construction work dried up. Then he was laid off from a factory job. He recently found work picking up trash at the waterfront for the Rose Festival, but he was fired when his employer ran a background check and found a 20-year-old felony assault conviction.

“Evidently there’s a problem picking up trash at the Rose Festival for felons,” Larry said. “It’s never gotten in my way at all, but now with the economy the way it is, people are pickier.” Continue reading

Homelessness in Oregon is on the rise

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Oregon has shot up dramatically since last year, according to the results of a statewide count released by the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department.

In 2008, the state found 12,529 individuals on the streets, in shelters or in transitional housing. This year, the number grew to 17,122. Almost 60 percent of those people did not have shelter or services available to them, the report says.

“The numbers confirm what we already knew,” OHCS Deputy Director Rick Crager said in a statement. “Families and individuals can’t afford to pay for one of their most basic needs — a place to live.”

The count found that:

– There was a 150 percent increase in the number of people on the streets without transitional housing or shelter.

– The number of households living doubled-up with friends or family increased fourfold.

– The number of homeless veterans in the state doubled. That mirrors an increase in Portland at almost the same rate. For full coverage of the ballooning numbers of veterans on the streets, who they are and why they’re becoming homeless, pick up the current issue of Street Roots from your local vendor.

– Mara Grunbaum