Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:20 PM
A different kind of battle
Veterans fight homelessness; project, group reaching out
By Janet Conner-KnoxTimes Staff Writer
It was 1970 when then-teenager Charles Battle was drafted into the Army and served in the Vietnam War.
Battle felt the country needed him and that was why he was drafted. He was proud to serve his country.
Today, Battle is fighting a different kind of battle. He battles poverty.
Battle and other local veterans were at the American Legion Post 13 Wednesday afternoon where they could receive household items, food, pillows and personal care items. It was all sponsored by BB&T Lighthouse Project for the third year. Volunteers with Veterans Residential Services of Wilson along with other veterans helped assist veterans as they came in.
Battle came in for some food and toiletries.
Battle, who isn’t homeless now, has been homeless a lot in his adult life.
"I had been living in a rooming house,” Battle said. "But it was bad in there. I couldn’t stay there.”
Battle said as a homeless person he has lived in abandoned houses and even laid down and slept on the pavement.
In the summer he slept in the woods as his Army training taught him.
"I lived a whole year in an abandoned school bus,” Battle said. "In the winter I prayed to God not to let me freeze to death. I asked him to protect me and he did.”
To make money, Battle said he would cut grass and do chores for people in exchange for food.
"I didn’t want any money,” Battle said. "I needed the food to take back to my bus so I could have something to eat.”Battle isn’t upset that his life has been so hard. In fact, he is more grateful than anything.
"God is good to me and has always been good,” Battle said.
No longer homeless, Battle moved into an apartment and has been there for a week now.
"I am so glad I don’t know what to do,” Battle said smiling. "I know where I am going to sleep. At my place.”
Battle was able to access housing information through the Veterans Residential Services of Wilson.
Battle said he knew there were benefits for him as a veteran, but he didn’t know how to access the benefits until he got in contact with that organization.
Dianne Kriesel, a volunteer with Veterans Residential Services of Wilson, said many veterans are like Battle.
"Lots of times people are unaware of how to get the services they need,” Kriesel said.
The organization has a number of ways they try to assist veterans.
"We started out two years ago with the homeless and at-risk veterans,” Kriesel said. "At that time we were helping with housing — rent, utilities, deposits and then our money got tight. So we branched out into providing food, clothing and household items.”
Kriesel said they help veterans with their resumes and help them find jobs as well.
"Now we hook them up with other agencies that can help with rent,” Kriesel said. "We also help them find agencies and individuals that can help them get their benefits.”
Kriesel said it can be quite surprising how something like a backpack, that BB&T supplies, can help a homeless person.
"In the backpack they can carry things they need to survive,” Kriesel said.
Battle said getting toiletries is very important when you are homeless.
"I was homeless, but I didn’t look like it,” Battle said. "I would wash my clothes and sometimes I would wash up at the police station.”
Battle always looked for a nice bathroom to keep up his appearance.
"It makes you feel better about yourself, even when you don’t have a home,” Battle said. "You don’t get to shower, but you wash yourself real good. And to do that you need to be able to wash clothes and have soap and things like that.”
Numbers for 2014 are not available yet, but the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said nationwide there are approximately 57,849 homeless veterans on a single night in January 2013 in the United States.
That number declined by 8 percent, or 4,770, from the year before.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs there are many reasons veterans are homeless, including poverty, lack of support from family or friends, substance use or mental health challenges that may develop or worsen as a result of trauma they experience while serving.
Kreisel said that just finding a job can be a challenge for a veteran.
"The economy isn’t that good and even though many employers say they give preference to veterans, we don’t always see that,” Kreisel said.
President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
Battle said that he believes the goal can be accomplished, but it will take groups like Veterans Residential Services and partners like BB&T to make it a reality.
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