More than 100 homeless and low-income veterans received care packages in San Francisco today during a coordinated effort by local nonprofit organizations to honor the service members during Veterans Day.
The packages were handed out at St. Anthony Foundation by members of the foundation, as well as the Veterans Health Administration and Swords to Plowshares, a group dedicated to reducing homelessness and poverty among veterans in the Bay Area.
The packages included rain ponchos, beanies, canteens and hygiene kits, and the veterans were also offered information on programs and services available to them.
About 150 veterans came to receive the packages, more than double the amount that came to a similar event last year, according to St. Anthony Foundation spokeswoman Francis Aviani.
She attributed the increase to the recent economic downturn because “everyone’s stretched just a little more.”
Jim Hill, 47, is a veteran who lives in one of the city’s residential hotels. Hill participated in the 1983 invasion of Grenada but did not experience major combat.
However, he said he is friends with many veterans of the Vietnam War and that “you can never understand what’s going on in their minds” when they discuss their traumatic war experiences.
“Seeing bombs blow people up, that’s got to take a toll on you,” Hill said. “These guys need help 24/7, because that’s a lot to take in.”
Aviani said post-traumatic stress disorder is extremely common in veterans, as well as various other health ailments.
“We’re learning more and more with every war about the impact of trauma,” she said. “We’re seeing people that are still debilitated by World War II and every war since then. As more time goes on, we’re realizing how devastating and debilitating the effects of war can be.”
About one in every three homeless men in the country has served in the armed forces, and officials estimate that 131,000 veterans sleep out on the streets.
About 25 percent of the people who visit the St. Anthony’s Dining Room are veterans who rely on free meals to sustain them.
Swords to Plowshares, which serves about 1,500 veterans in the Bay Area, also assisted during today’s event, as did members of the San Francisco VA Medical Center, which offers on-site and immediate medical, mental and social work assistance.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recently unveiled a five-year plan to try to prevent homelessness among veterans. The plan includes more access to permanent and transitional housing and services to address mental health needs.
The department plans to spend more than $3 billion on programs throughout the nation, but strong partnerships between government, private businesses and nonprofits are also necessary to meet the needs of the veterans.
Bobbie Rosenthal, the department’s regional homeless coordinator, said, “It’s always good when agencies like these get together and help homeless veterans and thank them for their service.”
For more information on the St. Anthony Foundation or to donate to the foundation, visit www.stanthonysf.org.