Homeless vets fundraiser in Texas gets serious

HUNTSVILLE, Texas— Benevolent citizens will get the opportunity to donate coats, blankets and cash to help raise money for homeless veterans around the state of Texas.

Two members of Huntsville’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5871, Commander David Lanoue and Jeff Clark, will live in a steel dumpster for 72 hours in the Walgreens parking lot with hopes of raising $100 per hour, or $7,200 for the three days.

The coats and blankets are for immediate comfort of homeless veterans. But whatever cash is collected will help pay veterans’ utility deposits.

Lanoue and Clark are in it to illustrate how the public is needed to help those who served the country. As of January 2012, there were more than 62,000 homeless veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Reasons for the homelessness are usually attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), chronic unemployment and substance abuse.

But Clark, who moved to Huntsville last year after retiring from 17 years with U.S. border patrol, said veterans are often mischaracterized. Reintegrating into American society after time in combat, he said, is more difficult than every day citizens understand.

Clark joined the Army in 1986 and led troops through Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

“It’s not so much for us to know what it’s like to share the pain of our brothers and sisters who are out on the streets,” Clark said. “It’s to raise the awareness of the public of the plight of our brothers and sisters who have fought, and sometimes died. They sacrificed and now they need help. We’re doing this so the public can be aware that there is something we can do, especially with it being Christmas time and the cold front that’s coming in.

“That’s why it’s cash and coats. It’s cash to help them off the street. And some of them don’t want any help. But they can all use a nice, warm coat.”

Clark, 46, is one of the younger members of Post 5871. Most of the veterans in the group served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. Clark was a more likely candidate to withstand living in a dumpster for three days, with light relief expected from others.

“At 46, I’m not young but I’m not 86. Those guys don’t need to be sleeping in a dumpster,” he said. “Having been in the military for eight years, leading soldiers in Desert Storm, sleeping out on a dirt floor in the Arabian desert for eight months in a tent with no electricity, three days in a dumpster isn’t going to bother me all that much if that’s what I’ve got to do to raise the awareness for our homeless veterans.”

In 2009, President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Together with partners and supporters nationwide, VA is determined to meet that challenge through the Homeless Veterans Outreach Initiative, an unprecedented commitment to those who served our nation but lack safe, secure housing.

Since 2009, the number of veterans who are homeless has dropped by 17.2 percent and the department has increased programs and funding to help homeless and “at risk” veterans. In fiscal 2013, VA according to its website will dedicate $1.4 billion to specialized homeless programs and $4.4 billion to health care for veterans who are homeless.

Clark said that veterans can also find literature on military benefits by visiting the fundraising site on 11th Street.

“We want to make sure we can help legitimate homeless veterans and not somebody gaming the system,” Clark said. “If veterans have any questions, they can swing by and pick up a pamphlet.”

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