Some 50,000 military veterans are homeless each night in the United States. In parts of North Texas, that number is declining. The latest census shows the homeless vet count in Fort Worth has dropped by one-third compared to last year. Seventy vets in that city currently call the Presbyterian Night Shelter home. On Tuesday, at a fundraiser for a vets program, a retired Marine general told vets he's got their backs.
Outside the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, small American flags lined flower beds to welcome 15 homeless veterans. Inside, the smell of fresh biscuits, scrambled eggs and bacon filled a church hall, where 150 people gathered for the second annual Freedom Breakfast.
“I really believe that veterans are the conscience of America,” says retired Marine General Terrence Dake.
He served 35 years, and has logged more than 6,000 flight hours in the military. And he was President Ronald Reagan’s helicopter pilot.
He told homeless vets they are national treasures. He said every veteran made a sacrifice -- to ensure all Americans would continue to enjoy their freedom.
“Now that they’re back and they need our help, we have an obligation," he said. "Not just the government, but as communities [ we need] to step up and help them.”
Toby Owen agrees. He's the CEO of the Presbyterian Night Shelter, which works closely with Veterans Affairs to help homeless vets find permanent housing.
“If a veteran wants to make it, and they put the effort into it, the Veteran’s Administration will be right there with them," he said. "And so will the Presbyterian Shelter. We’re right there with them, to help them. And [to] provide that living space while they’re getting things together in order to live independently.”
That’s Tony Suber’s goal, to live independently. The 54-year-old was in the US Army for a decade, and became disabled because of an accident while on duty.
“In that process I ended up going through homelessness,” Suber said. “And losing my wife, and family because of certain things that happened after coming back.”
He’s originally from Brooklyn, and served two tours in Germany. After long stretches of homelessness, Suber lost his teeth. Now, he’s back on track, with the help of Presbyterian.
“Normally I would’ve told you, I wouldn’t even do this interview because of how I feel personally,” he said. “But now, I’m getting to a point that it doesn’t matter anymore. And because of the program, because of the Presbyterian Night Shelter, it has helped me to overcome those areas.”
Jeremy Stearns, a 42-year-old Army veteran, has been homeless in Fort Worth for nearly three months.
“I’ve been carrying my stuff around,” he said. “And lining up daily, to try and get a bed. And so it’s a really, really hard struggle in the beginning, but it’s a little better.”
He’s now trying to turn his life around with the help of Shawmeeka Noland, program manager for Presbyterian's Veterans Services.
“I find joy in working with every veteran,” she said. “It’s just an amazing journey that we’ve been very blessed to take with our veterans who’ve served this country.”