07 August 2014

Is this how we treat combat Veterans now?

You might want to get a fresh cup of coffee before you read this. 

I still keep in touch with one guy from transitional housing, an Army vet. We've had a lot of similar experiences, and we've become good friends. He still lives in the Porchlight facility I was evicted from.

There's a two year limit on the transitional housing program. If you're still there, they boot you out. During the two years, they (meaning Porchlight and the VA) are supposed to help you get back on your feet, squared away, and into permanent housing again. That's the whole point of transitional housing-- get into permanent housing, have your ducks in a row, and above all not end up homeless again.

Sounds good on paper, right?

He's just past his two year mark. He's in a wheelchair, so he needs an apartment that's accessible to a person in a chair. Around here, there are not that many such apartments. Several landlords have outright rejected him, because he got a bad rental reference from guess where? Porchlight.  (This guy is Army. He bleeds OD green. His rent is up tight.)

The area homeless program manager from the VA told him a while back that they were giving him an extension. She also claimed that she had contacted more than twenty landlords about getting him a place to live. I'm guessing she didn't even contact one landlord, because she hasn't handed my friend even one rental application to fill out. (Side note: people from Porchlight and the VA are really good at promising things and not delivering. When I first moved in, VA person told me I'd be eligible for HUD-VASH because they were putting me on the waiting list for a voucher. When I talked to the same person this summer, she said I never was eligible because I haven't been "homeless long enough" to qualify.)

Today she told my friend that he had to sign a release of information, and get a letter from his doctor that says he is "mentally incompetent". They want to move him into a place whose residents all have various mental health issues, enough that they need to live in such a building. It's either that, or they're going to put him out on the street.

Still sounds g.... wait, WHAT?

People, this guy--my friend-- is working on a PhD in Mathematics. He is one of the sanest people I've ever met. He's also one of the smartest people I've ever met. He has one working arm, he's in a wheelchair, and he's been busting his ass to find both a job and an accessible place to live. He has not been to see a counsellor, a social worker, a psychiatrist, or even set foot inside a mental health clinic. He is neither a drunk nor an addict. The dude is an inspiration, the way he keeps fighting and working every day no matter what. I respect and look up to the man. Many other people do the same.

I've seen glimpses of what happens to people who are judged to be mentally incompetent. It is not pretty, nor is it something I would wish on my worst enemies. It would be a fate worse than death, having to cede control of the rest of your life-- once that mark is on you, it never comes off.  Bad enough that homeless Veterans already are starting with the count 0-2 and two outs in the ninth inning. They want us to say we're mentally incompetent before they'll help us find a fucking apartment to live in?

Is this the way we treat our Veterans now? Really??

Remember, this is the same VA employee that stood by while I was evicted-- I was on the street for three weeks, and she never even called to see if I was still alive. No one did, not from Porchlight or from the VA. It didn't bother her at all that I could have died on the street, and no one would ever know what happened to me. Her response was "It must have been kinda lonely." 

She's also the same person that once called the VA Hospital and rearranged (fucked up) my mental health appointments because she "thought it was a good idea." It wasn't.

She's in a position where she's being paid a lot of taxpayer money to fuck over Veterans. 

My friend and I both laid our lives on the line for this country. We don't ask for a lot in return-- we value being respected, and yes, being able to get some help when we need it. We both went into the VA's transitional housing program because there wasn't anywhere else to go.. The program-- Porchlight and the Veterans Administration-- they  promised us help getting back on our feet, and they lied to us.

I never understood how some Veterans (and many others) choose to live on the streets, and deal with all of the dangerous and bad things/people that also call the streets home. It didn't make sense-- who would turn down a warm bed and a roof overhead, and food to eat, and live in a cardboard box?

Trust me on this, being homeless and living on the streets SUCKS. Every moment of your days and nights is taken up with surviving until the next day, when you have to start all over again. That's all your life is. Survival. Nothing more.

I understand, now, why people choose to stay on the streets and tough it out. It's dangerous, but at least the rules are clear. Someone bullies you, you hit back. Someone tries to take your sleeping spot, you hit back. You mess with someone, they are going to mess with you.

Porchlight is (or at least says it is) in the business of helping homeless people get off the streets of Madison, and into permanent housing. Wrong. They are the biggest bully on the block, and they're untouchable because the VA won't do anything when a Vet gets evicted. (Hello, Patient Advocate in Madison WI? Yeah, I do mean you.)

Telling a combat Veteran working on a PhD that he has to declare himself mentally incompetent or be put back on the street?

Putting another combat Veteran and student on the street for rent problems that he didn't create, and then forgetting he ever existed?

America, is this how you are going to treat your sons and daughters who put their lives on the line for you?



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