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The Long Road Home
By Matt Davison
For thousands of veterans, the Vietnam War is not over. It is still taking lives. They'd have to build a wall several times as tall to record the names of all who have fallen since coming home. Many committed suicide. Some just popped and went off like rounds in an overheated gun. Many could not hold down a job and drifted into homelessness, stripped of dignity and pride, just trying to survive. Thirty-plus years after Vietnam, so many who survived the bullets and land mines are lost in a world that has passed them by, wishing only for a chance to go home. No, freedom is never free.
On any given night there are the equivalent of seventeen infantry divisions on the streets of this great nation with no place to call home. These are men and women who served our nation during its greatest times of need and now live without shelter or employment, food or medical care. They are the once-young men and women, now aging, whom we sent abroad to defend our country but cast aside upon their return. They are our country's forgotten heroes, those who at one time may have been awarded a Medal of Honor or Purple Heart.
Homeless veterans want to be able to regain personal pride by taking personal responsibility to remove the barriers that have prevented their transition to productive citizenship. In order to do this they need access to substance abuse recovery and mental health programs, affordable housing, and employment opportunities. Programs such as the Department of Labor (DOL) Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project (HVRP), currently in operation at Joint Efforts, Inc. in San Pedro, is helping veterans live a part of the "American Dream" that they were promised but were denied for so long. Having and keeping jobs with decent pay and benefits is the key to ending homelessness. Having a job at the end of the tunnel is often the difference between success and failure for vocational rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment. Employment is central to keeping homes and families together.
Michael Jackson, a U.S. Army veteran, is just one of the homeless vets who has taken advantage of the services offered by Joint Efforts. "Joint Efforts has been helping me since September 6. I was homeless, was in a recovery program, had no source of income. Upon my first visit to Joint Efforts, I was enrolled into the HVRP Program and assisted in finding a place to live. Since then, I've been given access to the Joint Efforts computer lab, that offers classes in computer programs such as Word and Excel, as well as how to utilize the Internet for employment information. Through the guidance of my case manager, Tonie Chavez, and my job developer, Matt Davison, I have been able to attend veterans' workshops to learn how to prepare for employment, and have already interviewed for three job prospects. I believe I am now on the verge of being hired by one of the prospects any day now. Joint Efforts has given me an entirely new perspective on life, and for that I am thankful." [Editor's note: This veteran now has housing and a full-time job.]
Now, in light of recent tragic events, there is even more reason to reach out to veterans who have defended our country in other times of peril, and in memory of all those who have perished in defense of America's freedom. It takes a network of partnerships to be able to provide a full range of services to homeless veterans. No one entity can provide this complex set of requirements without developing relationships with others in the community. Joint Efforts is especially calling upon South Bay employers to consider hiring veterans for open positions and providing training opportunities with the assistance of DOL grant funding. More than ever before, it is time to say "thank you" to those who have served, and to lend a hand up to those who struggle to take their rightful place in our society. For more information on the Joint Efforts Veterans Program, please call Matt Davison at (310) 831-2358, ext. 220, or Tonie Chavez at (310) 831-2358, ext. 221. Joint Efforts is a non-profit organization located at 505 South Pacific Avenue in San Pedro, California.
Matt Davison served six years in the Far East as an intercept operator with the U.S. Air Force Security Service.
His enlistment term ended as the Vietnam War was in its early phases.
He is currently a case manager and job developer for homeless veterans at Joint Efforts, Inc.