"So what you all are saying is that you had no problem sending me to Vietnam when I was 19 so you could build your community, but you do have a problem with me seeking service in your community."
“So what you all are saying is that you had no problem sending me to Vietnam when I was 19 so you could build your community, but you do have a problem with me seeking service in your community.”
That’s veteran Bob Coffey speaking at a meeting of Little Rock’s Downtown Neighborhood Association last Thursday, according to the statewide daily.
The association was meeting because the federal Department of Veterans Affairs has proposed building a clinic that would provide daytime services to homeless veterans in a vacant Main Street car dealership. Those services would include two free meals a day, psychiatric and substance abuse services, and help finding a job and a home.
Local residents and business owners don’t want the clinic there. They say it will attract homeless people of all types to an area of the city that doesn’t need anything keeping business away. They are worried about safety.
Mayor Mark Stodola says the clinic would be in the wrong place (across the street from a liquor store), and that it would be a duplication of services that the city is trying to offer elsewhere.
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, says the agency didn’t seek enough public input before signing its lease.
All good points. Still, I’m wondering how anyone at that meeting could have refuted Mr. Coffey’s argument. What do you say in response to what he said?
Let’s be careful not to paint anyone as a villain. Surely no one at the meeting wants homeless veterans to suffer. No doubt they are grateful for the veterans’ sacrifice. Efforts to provide homeless services elsewhere in the city have met with similar resistance, just as they would meet with resistance in cities and towns across Arkansas.
Still, if not there, where? Downtown Little Rock is where so many of the homeless veterans are.
Nationwide, one third of adult homeless people are veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, with most having mental illnesses or substance abuse problems.
The VA estimates there are 67,000 homeless veterans across the country on a given night, with twice that many experiencing homelessness at some point over the course of a year. Half served during the Vietnam era. One-third served in a combat zone.
It’s that last group, the combat veterans, for which the country should spare no expense. The guiding principle should be: We sent them to fight. We should do whatever it takes to help them when they come back – even if it takes a lifetime.
By now, we ought to have figured out that wars have consequences. I’ve been alive 42 years, and the United States has been at war for much of them.
We were in Vietnam through much of the 1960s until 1975. We fought a brief war under Reagan in Grenada. Additionally, 241 Marines were killed in Lebanon in 1983.
Under the first President Bush, the United States overthrew Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, enforced the no-fly zone over Iraq and sent troops to aid relief efforts in Somalia.
President Clinton kept us in Somalia until we were enmeshed in that country’s civil war, continued to enforce the no-fly zone and then got us involved in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, where NATO won a decisive victory.
President George W. Bush got us into Afghanistan and returned us to Iraq. We’re still in Afghanistan under President Obama and only recently left Iraq. We also helped the Libyans overthrow Moammar Gadhafi.
There are two ways to reduce the number of homeless veterans. The first and best way is to stop fighting so many wars.
The second is to be prepared for what happens when we do. We shouldn’t blame the Downtown Neighborhood Association because members don’t want a clinic there. We should blame the government, and ourselves, because every necessary service wasn’t long ago in place – for the existing homeless veterans, and for the new ones that the War on Terror would produce.
As a society, we’ve pretty much said, “Welcome home, but we’re not going to do a whole lot to welcome you here.”
We know that wars mess up people. We know some people come back physically wounded. And we know that others come back with other kinds of wounds. After fighting in a war, some veterans cannot live with the peace.
Now that we are letting them sleep in the streets, how do we live with ourselves?
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas.