Often, when we think of the brave members of our military, we picture uniformed soldiers fighting on the battlefield in the protection and representation of this country. But, for many of these same soldiers, another battle awaits them when they fulfill their military service. That's because their return to civilian life often includes unimaginable hardships — even homelessness.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) reports that one out of every six people in a U.S. homeless shelter is a veteran. The harsh reality is that those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces are 50 percent more likely to fall into homelessness than are other Americans.
In Monterey County, the Veterans Transition Center is helping local servicemen and women get off the streets and back on their feet. More than 50 veterans currently are living in the VTC-remodeled housing units at Fort Ord, and more than 1,200 veterans are assisted by VTC each year with housing, food, clothing and information.
This critical support received a big boost in December from the American Red Cross, which provided 2,000 "comfort kits" to the VTC for use by veterans in need.
These comfort kits include such personal-hygiene items as shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, a comb, a toothbrush and toothpaste, razors, Band-Aids, antibiotic cream, wet wipes and a pair of socks.
“These are some of the first things our homeless Veterans need when they show up at our doorstep,” said Terry Bare, VTC executive director at Martinez Hall in Marina. “Community support such as this from the Red Cross is absolutely vital to the veterans we support.”
The Red Cross comfort kits are being distributed to the veterans and their families who are in the transitional housing units at Fort Ord. Any remaining kits are being stored for use at the annual Veterans’ Stand Down at Fort Ord, where homelessness veterans have access to many services including housing, employment and legal services. The Red Cross also is donating first-aid kits for each of the veterans housing units.
"We are proud to honor these veterans with our support," says Naomi Pease, director of the American Red Cross's Service to the Armed Forces activities in the organization's Northern California Coastal Region.
Pease said support for active military, veterans and their families is a part of the Red Cross DNA, beginning with founder Clara Barton’s mission of caring for wounded soldiers more than 130 years ago. Since then, the Red Cross has partnered with all branches of the United States military to ensure that active service members, veterans and their families have access to humanitarian services. These services include financial assistance, counseling and veteran assistance.
The Red Cross's Service to the Armed Forces efforts also include emergency communications to keep military personnel in touch with their families for significant life events such as the birth of a child or grandchild, serious illness or death of an immediate family member, or other emergency.
Photo caption: Edwin Marticorena, Veterans Transition Center deputy director, and Kathy Damon, office manager, inventory some of the 2,000 “comfort kits” that the Red Cross recently provided to the VTC for use by veterans in need.