Scott Lenhart/Daily Journal
Veterans gather at the Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City for a gathering the nonprofit organized yesterday to commemorate their service to the country and to illustrate the resources available for them.
Vietnam era Army veteran Randy remembers his return to civilian life.
"They kicked us off the plane and told us good luck,” the 57-year-old said.
On Thursday, Randy and several more veterans received a much warmer thank you for their service from Shelter Network at the Maple Street Shelter in Redwood City. Some were clients at the shelter — 14 homeless veterans were expected to lay their heads down there Thursday night — and others came from the Veterans Administration to be honored with thank yous, music and a hot meal.
Randy, who enlisted in the Army to follow his older brother, was touched that somebody remembered.
"It’s about time,” he said.
Randy grew up in Marysville and served in Vietnam from 1971 to 1979. He later landed on the Peninsula seeking treatment for his post traumatic stress disorder and addiction. He learned of the lunch at the VA in Menlo Park and came over to receive his tribute and ask if they could find him room.
The shelter is rated for 75 beds but can accommodate 81 men and women. Approximately 15 percent to 20 percent are veterans, said Dr. Brian Greenburg, vice president of programs and services. The adult-only shelter tends to attract single veterans from earlier wars while younger veterans from the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan tend to be at the family sites with their spouses and children.
Veterans actually make up a pretty sizable piece of the homeless population overall, said Shelter Network Executive Director Karae Lisle, who added Thursday’s celebration was also a way to raise awareness.
Lisle asked the crowd if they had any idea how many veterans live in the United States today
"Three hundred thousand?” called out one voice.
But no, the answer was actually 23 million — a figure that drew some breaths in the audience.
"Veterans are among the most selfless citizens. It is impossible to fully repay you,” Lisle said. "To the veterans here today, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Nationally, an estimated one out of every six homeless adults in shelters are veterans and veterans are 50 percent more likely to become homeless compared to other Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The shelter’s lunch room was decked out in red, white and blue for the occasions with clusters of helium balloons tied to chairs and twisted streamers looping across the walls. "Welcome vets” was spelled out in colored tape against one wall and flags stood in each corner.
As U.S. Army Air Force Cmdr. R. Clifford Vrooman Sr. led the Pledge of Allegiance, the group stood with the World War II veteran in recitation. While several wore name tags bearing their branch of military service there was no delineation between homeless and not. Instead, they were united in their service.
"For the record, a veteran is very simply someone who stepped forward when others were stepping back,” said Rex Andrew, an emergency response coordinator with the city of San Mateo and a veteran himself.
The self-proclaimed "old screaming eagle” said a simple thank you suffices for most veterans.
The acknowledgment was certainly not lost on John, a former infantryman with the Marine Corps between 1977 and 1980. As Jim Bishop, a development associate with Shelter Network, played a musical tribute on trombone, John stood and placed his hat over his heart.
"I had to. He was playing the Marine Corps hymn,” he said.
John was stationed in the Philippines and Camp Pendleton. He’s lived at the Maple Street Shelter for almost two months and is thankful for the space. Yesterday’s program particularly touched him.
"It means everything. To be a vet and be thanked, I’m very grateful,” he said.
Shelter Network’s work with the veterans doesn’t end with the holiday — a day also celebrated with dinner and a movie. The organization is expanding its services through Supportive Services for Veterans Families, a new VA program that helps veterans’ families who are homeless or at risk for homelessness secure and maintain permanent housing.
About 90 percent of graduates of Shelter Network find permanent housing and veterans are often very amenable to the structure because of their military background, Lisle said.
The program, as with all clients, requires the able-bodied to get jobs, save money and enter treatment if they have substance abuse issues. The goal is a return to self-sufficiency and instilling dignity, Lisle said.
Shelter Network accepts donations of both money and goods. A wish list of needed items is also maintained on their website at www.shelternetwork.org.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.