BY MIRIAM LANDRU – Vietnam veteran, Medal of Honor winner and retired Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Allan Kellogg is a homeless benefit counselor at Veterans Affairs based at Tripler Medical Center. Maintaining an open door policy, his office is filled with boxes of donations ranging from clothing to boots to basic toiletries for homeless veterans.
Kellogg has a challenging job. On any given night, there are approximately 75,000 war veterans living on the streets in the United States. On Oahu, the number can range from 500 or 1,200.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s homeless coordinator, Marc Alexander, recently unveiled a 90 day plan in partnership with government, community groups, nonprofits, community and faith-based organizations, businesses, shelter and outreach services to address Hawaii’s growing homeless population. It includes encouraging more businesses and charitable groups to provide food in shelters instead of in public spaces and moving homeless from emergency shelters or the streets into transitional or permanent housing. Protocols also are being established to immediately help people who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness and are suffering from mental illnesses, the governor’s administration notes in a recent news release.
“At the end of the 90 days on Aug. 15, 2011, the state will have completed an intensive initiative to establish the partnerships and policies that will be the foundation of Governor Neil Abercrombie’s united efforts to end homelessness in Hawaii,” the release states.
Kellogg believes the 90 day plan to end homeless in Hawaii is a challenge to implement. “It’s not going to be easy. Homeless people really don’t have to go anywhere to get anything. It all comes to them.” He adds, “A lot of the guys who had bad discharges from the military just ended up staying here. I mean, if you’re going to be homeless, this (Hawaii) is the place to be.”
The number of homeless veterans varies depending on who is asked. Kellogg says there are about 1,200 homeless. The savvy U.S. Vets Hawaii State Director Darryl Vincent sticks to the official point in time count taken last January of a little over 500. However, Kellogg counters that just since this past January, he has seen over 600 different veterans in his office at Tripler and helped them get the services they need.
While Kellogg mainly assists those veterans from Vietnam, he has seen around 30 soldiers this year who served in more recent wars.
Vincent has the opposite situation. He sees those who served in recent years in the military in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “The median age for homeless veterans used to be between 58 and 59 years old and that was a correlation between the Vietnam War and now. Obviously, they weren’t getting the best care that they are now. So many people came back and didn’t get the care they needed. Therefore it is manifesting itself… years later,” Vincent said.
The U.S. Vets program, which was established in 2003 and has locations at Barber’s Point and Waianae, helps former veterans and their families get back on their feet. If eligible, U.S. Vets provides outreach, case management, job training and mental, drug, and alcohol counseling and free housing. Currently, there are around 250 veterans living at the Barber’s Point location.
“Outreach is number one. We find a homeless veteran in the streets- that’s called outreach. Their job is to bring the homeless veteran in to see if he is eligible for our services and connect them to the VA. The next thing is clinical assessment, whether they need mental counseling or substance abuse counseling. They are then assigned to a case manager, said Vincent, “This is all to facilitate the change from homelessness to living in a home and make it as seamlessly as possible.”
US Vets is a nonprofit with a $2.5 billion budget for the fiscal year 2011. About $150,000 come from the State of Hawaii. “US vets has been opened since 2003. We’ve served over 1,600 homeless veterans since we’ve been opened. We’ve had a 75 percent success rate,” asserted Vincent.
US Vets works closely with the federal government-run Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs also has its own plan to end homelessness in Hawaii and throughout the country.
However, some times people either don’t want help or don’t succeed in an organized program. Jerry Walker, Army Veteran and resident of King Street, admits to his own challenges. “I’m a recovering meth addict. I went through the US Vets rehab program. I was staying with friends over on that side when it was over, they started using again- so I left. Now I’m back on the streets,” he said.
But Walker may not be able to stay on the streets since Hawaii is undergoing a controversial homeless sweep. While many people in the community support the governor’s administration efforts, not all are pleased with the round up of Hawaii’s homeless.
Calvin Griffin, a U.S. Army Veteran and local radio talk show host, is critical of Hawaii’s 90-day plan.
“Anytime there’s an event in Hawaii, I’ve noticed that the government just rounds the homeless up, gets them out of the way. You know, because this is the state of Aloha. There’s supposed to be a sense of well being here,” said Griffin, who noted the APEC conference, which will attract world leaders, is set for November.
The 5-year Veterans Affairs plan to end homelessness was put into effect in early November 2009 and is almost now halfway completed. When the plan was enacted, there were 131,000 homeless veterans across the US.
Now, less than 2 years later, there are roughly 75,000 homeless.
But on this small island, there’s still a long way to go.
“One thing about this job and being in Hawaii, you just gotta keep moving forward,” said Kellogg.