This entry was submitted to Washington Post and Examiner on November 27, 2012 but due to transfer problems, it didn’t appear until today.
Homeless people in Washington D.C. are presenting a special and unique challenge to the veterans vigil in front of The Department of Veteran Affairs on Vermont Avenue.
While many of the homeless in the nations capital are thrown onto the streets because of lack of money for treatment for mental health or substance issues others are sleeping on the sidewalks because of the weak economy.
Knowing on some level that sleeping alone in the streets can be dangerous, many migrate to the sidewalk where the veterans have been holding a vigil since October 4, 2012. No one is turned away — at least initially.
“Everyone that comes is welcome,” said one veteran who chose not to reveal his name. “Once someone becomes a disruption, they have to go though,” he said.
While all are welcome regardless of their veteran status, one of the homeless that has recently been sleeping at the site seemed confused about the purpose of the vigil.
“This is an occupy encampment,” he kept screaming at anyone — veterans or passersby — who would look at him. “This is an occupy, NOT a vigil,” he repeated over and over.
Two of the veterans who have been maintaining the vigil attempted to quiet the homeless man down unsuccessfully. Only when told that his choices were to quiet down or leave did the homeless individual stop shouting.
Another problem created by the numbers of homeless are the limited resources available to the veterans.
“We don’t mind sharing what food we have,” said one vet. “But we have to make sure that the people taking part in the vigil are taken care of first.”
Like birds flocking around a crust of bread, the homeless swarm whenever an individual or organization donates consumables. Despite the unspoken policy that everyone will get fed, one individual pictured above, was seen repeatedly pushing to the front of the line recently when food was donated.
Called down by the veterans and instructed to wait his turn like everyone else, he sulked away and stood at a distance, screaming again at anyone that would listen.
Having withstood Hurricane Sandy, The Department of Homeland Security and Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police, misguided and immature occupiers, it seems that the last challenge facing the veterans is what to do with the homeless — especially those that don’t cooperate.