july 29, 2011

GI Go Fund Completes Historic Week for Serving Homeless Veterans

Hundreds participate in events aimed at getting veterans off the streets

NEWARK, NJ - Over the past decade, America has seen the homeless veteran population expand, with the rate of veterans who have the misfortune of living on the streets rising every year since 2006. And with thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning home from war only to wind up on the very streets they left to protect, the homeless veterans’ epidemic is on the verge of reaching its tipping point.

In its continuing efforts to eradicate homelessness among veterans, the GI Go Fund completed an historic week of events aimed at getting veterans off the streets. The week’s events included hundreds of dedicated volunteers and participants committed to help bring an end to homelessness among our nation’s veteran population.

First, the Midnight Outreach to Homeless Veterans on July 26th featured teams of volunteers going to the Newark Penn Station and Newark Liberty International Airport at 4 a.m. to find homeless veterans and collect basic information that will be used to help them find permanent and transitional housing. Veterans who were assisted that night were given bags filled with basic essentials like clothes, sanitary items, and non-perishable food and fruits. In addition, the VA Mobile Health Unit was on hand to provide any emergency medical assistance to veterans in need of immediate care.

The organization followed up with its Homeless Veterans Services Day on July 28th, where over 300 veterans from all conflicts came to the Paul Robeson Campus Center in Rutgers Newark to receive fresh food, medical checkups, haircuts, and assistance with VA benefits, Social Security, legal rights, and permanent housing. In addition, the event had thousands of clothing and sanitary items donated from all over the community, including 400 clothing items from the Salvation Army, 250 towels and soap bars from the Newark Airport Marriott, over 1,000 blankets from Continental Airlines.

“We were able to help a lot of those most in need,” said GI Go Deputy Director Alexander Manis. “We had hundreds of volunteers and community leaders from the Newark 50 Project and Project L.I.VE

team up to reach out to the homeless veteran population here in Newark and offer a hand. And we were not just providing a day’s worth of help, rather we were working towards helping all homeless veterans get off the streets, laying the groundwork for us to provide these veterans permanent housing.”

The events were described as eye opening experiences by the volunteers, who until this week had never seen the tragedy of homelessness among veterans first-hand.

“It really breaks your heart when you see it,” said Ana Jordao, who volunteered at both the Midnight Outreach and the Homeless Veterans Services Day. “Everybody knows that there are homeless people and homeless veterans out there, but you don’t really get a sense of what it is like until your there. When you go out there, you see with your own eyes people huddled up underneath a bridge, trying to sleep without getting soaked by the rain. You talk to people who have families that they haven’t seen in years because they are too embarrassed to admit that they are homeless. And when you see veterans who have been on the streets for years slowly dying because they have no real way of getting the medical care they need, it’s really gut wrenching.”

Participants of the event also said that they had a better understanding of what the causes of homelessness are. They all agreed that while several other factors may be involved in certain cases, the one constant among all homeless veterans was a crushing addiction to drugs and “Ending addictions must be the first step when talking about getting these men and women off the streets,” said GI Go Executive Director Jack Fanous. “Every single veteran I spoke to said that they ended up homeless because of their addiction to drugs and alcohol and their inability to get clean. We can say to ourselves that all we need to provide is shelter and housing, but homelessness will never be solved without first tackling their addictions. Without doing that first, any money or assistance they receive after they are housed will still go towards drugs and alcohol, and they will never be able to have enough money to get back on their feet and begin to provide for themselves.

Everyone who took part in the week’s events stated that they were proud of what they were able to achieve for veterans. They spoke with great pride as they recalled the veterans who thanked them for taking the time to provide them with the essential services they so desperately need, and how they look forward to lending a helping hand in future homeless veterans' events.

“I am so happy and proud that we had the opportunity to hold these events because we gave so many people the opportunity to see first-hand what homeless veterans endure on a daily basis, and what must be done to change it. But above all else, I am glad to know that every single person who volunteered said that they wanted to do it again. Each one had a veteran that they met that touched their hearts in some way, and they did not want to see them without a home anymore. We all want to continue the fight of getting these guys off the streets, and none of us will be satisfied until the tragedy of homelessness among veterans is brought to an end.”

Special thanks to all our event donors:

Continental Airlines

Newark Airport Marriott

Jordans Baking Co.

City of Newark, NJ

Salvation Army

Dunkin Donuts

Papa John’s

Subway

Rutgers-Newark

Law Coffee

Operation Chillout

Hobby’s Deli