From homeless abyss to President’s List

July 28, 2015


If only a nickel had been donated for the many times this ill-advised disposition was echoed, “No time to learn, when there’s money to be earned,” then certainly there would be no need for this transitional testimony cautioning the reliance on a lack of academic persistence to bring about a prosperous existence. Because, quite frankly, there would be enough money set aside for an Ivy league scholarship for each of these transitioning military personnel.


A college degree eases the transitioning veteran into a more marketable position in society, thus lessening their susceptibility to homelessness. I would know first-hand, as after serving 14 years in the Navy, I was homeless for two years. 


I slept in bushes, on school grounds, abandoned cars, laundry mats and even the steps of a church. There was little shame in my game. Whatever provided shelter from the inclement weather and light to do my homework, I was there. I found meals in trash cans, along with favor from bus drivers to ride for free so  my attendance wouldn't slip. Through it all, the Lord Jesus ordered my steps and open doors of possibilities and windows of opportunity through the supportive family at EPCC.


Unbeknownst to these, no doubt well-intentioned, transitioning service members they have already enrolled themselves into the school of thought that endorses the notion that the earlier they work, the faster they will amass wealth. Regardless of their ardent attitude towards financial accumulation, the reality is that their relentless toil in the civilian occupational field may eventually yield a more woeful harvest than that of a fruitful one.  


Understanding that there are exceptions to every rule, college graduates are five times more likely to land a higher paying position than that of their degree deficient counterparts. In his 1999 article “A College Degree Is the Key,” author Anthony Carnevale wrote, “In 1959, only 20 percent of workers between the ages of 30 and 59 needed at least some college; today that number is 56 percent.” 


In light of this, “academia” for the transitioning service member should always remain an indispensable toll bridge from where they are to where they want to be. Therefore, their radar should be securely set to detect any speed traps that may pose a threat to their timely arrival towards any preset academic goals. As if the highway to higher learning was not rigorous enough, evasive maneuvers may have to be employed in order to steer clear of any discouraging potholes or citations of cynicism that are hoping to make their ascension towards excellence that much harder. With an encouraging spirit, one veteran to another might say, “Hang in there and don’t let go, because remember, it’s a long way down if you don’t.”


Regardless of the challenges, education’s companionship along life’s scenic stretches and its treacherous terrains continues to be an intelligent ride-share. Unfortunately, this “priceless” commute is propelled by super unleaded prices. Not to mention, its Ferrari-like maintenance fees along the way that can really have one’s service check light constantly blinking. Despite the costly traveling fee, this is one joyride that every departing military veteran who has served with honor and distinction cannot afford to miss. 

Sadly, the road to education is seldom traveled after the cord of the military is severed. 



In an 2012 article, Marilyn Bernstein, veteran services coordinator for the University of Arizona, stated that “the veterans coming back haven’t been in an academic setting for anywhere between four and 20 years.” 

With thoughts of grandeur about procuring the type of employment that would produce a sizable income without the aid of a formal education or training, a service member leaves the military only to find the set up for success was actually one of failure and despair. In fact, the disillusionment felt coming from a goal oriented, mission accomplishing backdrop like the military, is downright searing. 

As military veterans make the transition back to civilian life, the Department of Veterans Affairs
estimated that 97% of all homeless males in America will be military veterans. USA Today stated
in a 2014 article that up to 48,000 Afghan and Iraq vets are at risk for homelessness. As writer
George F. Stowe III experienced firsthand, that number continues to increase.



“As more young veterans of recent wars leave the military, the number of them falling on hard times and homelessness continues to rise sharply,” Gregg Zoroya wrote in his USA TODAY 2014 article, “Up to 48,000 Afghan, Iraq vets are at risk for homelessness.”


More often than not, it is homelessness that punctures the “game changing” holes in the already over inflated wheels of fortune that a vast majority of men, and now women’s, hopes and dreams are riding on. Subsequently, the punctures slow their roll towards unrealistic goals, thereby bringing them to a complete and abrupt halt. From Aerospace to certain fast food chains and everything in between, possession of a resume that has anything less than a bachelor’s degree for highest education earned, rarely receives a second look. 


With finances running low and anxiety running high, options running out and obligations rushing in, the streets ultimately become a harsh reality for our nation’s men and women of valor. The experience is nothing short of epic and the effects are mood altering as they are life changing. This bone chilling epiphany can set fire to the fuse of a critical thinker, one who is buried under temporary circumstances, thereby enabling them to realize a sustaining prize like a college degree would far outlast any temporary pressure that could ever be experienced. 


As a result, an immediate diagnostic check of their less than optimal plans are performed. This thorough introspection identifies the holes, affixes the patches and facilitates a re-entry strategy back into the flow of transitional traffic. Only this time, the purpose driven veterans are well equipped with an accredited institution as a reliable navigational device for life’s journey ahead.


“Having served with distinction and being honorably discharged, military vets want nothing more but to maintain their sense of duty in servitude to this fine nation by pursuing a lifestyle that is reflective of a productive and responsible contributor to society,” Vietnam Combat Medic Jesus Venegas said. “When I came home, I didn’t want a ticker tape parade, ‘thank yous’ or even a hero’s welcome. All I wanted was for people to say, ‘Welcome home, kid.’”


However, this daunting undertaking could only be achieved through the power of education along with the understanding and generosity of others. If this post-military mountain was not insurmountable enough, the Department of Veterans Affairs predicted in 2008 that 97 percent of all America’s homeless males will be military Veterans. Refreshingly, the fighting spirit still remains in some of our nation’s heroes who refuse to capitulate to this gut wrenching statistic, arguably enough, without first showing signs of a struggle. It is that 3 percent this article unapologetically celebrates and the other 97 percent, it earnestly seeks to motivate. 

In light of this well documented, but seldom spoken reality, heartfelt petitions come as no surprise to nonprofit organizations dedicated to veterans succeeding like Aliviane’s. This is an organization that has community based outreach programs for Veterans who desire a second chance at a once missed opportunity. 


“My goal is to find stable housing and gainful employment for homeless veterans and their families,” Patricia Zine, four year case manager for Aliviane’s Veterans Homeless program said. “Help is out there; fight for what you’ve earned and don’t give up.” 


Knowingly, the aid of a military friendly organization dedicated to seeking, screening and supporting former enlisted and commissioned service-members alike becomes a powerful ally in the fight to regain strength and stability. This sought-after strength and searched stability are, most and generally, badly needed in a pair of legs that were once temporarily afflicted with the crippling effects of situational apathy. Virtually all  97 percent of homeless and recently homeless veterans surveyed by Veterans Inc. in the summer of 2009 preferred receiving services from an organization focused on veterans’ special needs.


With finances playing a major role in making or breaking a Vet’s scholastic success, the limited amount awarded by the Veteran Administration, under the best of conditions, makes meeting ends extremely difficult while trying to maintain a sustainable living condition during this pivotal period. 


“The financial increases are not much,” Gaston Aguirre-Martinez, veteran affairs specialist at EPCC, said. “The VA does not pay for school breaks. Going two weeks after the spring semester, one week in-between each summer session, two weeks after the summer semester and a whole five weeks from fall to the spring semester without benefits, it’s very hard, especially on those full-time students who depend solely on the G.I. Bill to survive. It [breaks without benefits] really causes a financial hardship without those payments.” 

These timely, but yet modest amount of benefits, oftentimes lacks the potential to avoid placing even the most determined of its recipients into some pretty precarious situations. The underachieving amounts of the VA benefits frequently pits these persistent veterans, after the ravages of necessity, between having to pay for a decent meal and paying the rising costs of school attendance.


Needless to say, bodily nutrition would seldom take precedence over education, especially with these driven individuals, for whom, quitting is not an option. 


“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Do I eat or does my family?’” Veteran and EPCC student Kyle Patrick, who recently received a new addition into his household, his firstborn son, Zachary, said. “I’ve lived most American’s worst nightmare and I placed another American’s needs before mine and my family’s. I’m repaid with not enough money to play catch up and go to college.”


Notwithstanding, the support solicited by these patriots is not merely a monetary one, as they genuinely seek for it to be educationally endorsing. 


As she expounds on the rehabilitating effects an accredited institution can offer transitioning veterans and its social imperatives to the inner-city youth, Veteran Adjunct Biology Professor Cindy Holmes said education helps veterans transition back to civilian life.


“It can be a win-win situation for both groups who are trying not to get swallowed up by the streets,” she said. 


Being empowered with the knowledge that the “Gift of Presence” far outweighs mere wishful thinking, Veterans like William Plye, who works the front desk night-shift staff at the Opportunity Center, a downtown transient facility center, avail themselves for the betterment of those of a once kindred spirit-homelessness. 

“I like giving back to the veterans that helped me out when I was down,” he said. “So it’s only right to return the favor.”


With the accumulation of nearly 10 years of service at the “O.C.” as the weekend Food Services Supervisor, David  Gutierrez said his service provides to veterans in need. 


“Not only is my faith in God seeing this transformation through, but my goal in serving a meal is not only to provide a nutritious one, but to provide hope to fortify them for another day,” he said.


Once a mind has been gathered and an internal deal has been struck, the transformation from military deployable to board room promotable is so easily attained through the assistance of people who carefully consider an individual’s personal potential, as well as affirming their academic aspirations. These committed individuals can be found working tirelessly at each of EPCC’s five campus student service centers, VA/financial department, counseling offices, tutoring labs, campus life and student leadership facilities, along with the classrooms themselves.  


Being a humbled recipient of the blessings of the Lord - the adherence to His principles for the retrieval of His promises - I write to you today. Having weathered the storms generated by the emergence from the bushes to the college books, the trash cans to outstanding transcripts, and from the homelesswness abyss to the prestigious standings of the President’s list, this Vet says, “Hallelujah!” It is truly a blessing to have the honor and distinct privilege of sharing these testimonies of a life lived to encourage all to view education as an intellectual seed.


A seed that must be sown presently, in order to enjoy a bumper crop of wisdom later. Therefore, there is no better time than now for us to report, advocate and intercede as academic liaisons between those who are in need, transitioning vets, and those who are in need of being needed, a grateful nation.



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