Invisible Wounds

What stress does to the soul

Out of the Swamp

Homeless vets in Florida get a safe and warm Christmas.

Our government asks that our soldiers give up an arm or a leg or their life,” says “Crazy Eddie” Colosimo, “but then when they get out, it says, ‘Thanks. Now go away and don’t bother us anymore.’ That makes me so mad!”

Colosimo’s revulsion at the way America’s vets are treated underscores a poignant Christmas tale that I watched play out in Florida a couple of weeks ago.

Colosimo is president and chief executive officer for Bikers/Americans For First Amendment Rights (BFFAR), which for the second year joined up with American Legion Post 361 to offer homeless vets in the Daytona Beach area a safe and warm Christmas.

About 25 vets and a few spouses showed up on Dec. 24.

“One vet had been living in a storage unit and a couple had been living in their cars,” Colosimo told me, “but most of them came out of the woods.”

The volunteers checked the vets into a motel where they could get cleaned up, then took them to the BFFAR post in Holly Hill for haircuts and shaves. Then on Christmas eve, they got a big dinner: hams, turkeys and all the side dishes.

Christmas day was spent at the post, hanging out and playing pool and talking. Alcohol was off limits. The homeless vets were given military backpacks filled with sleeping bags and survival gear, as well as about $100 in cash and gift cards. Then on Christmas night, members of the two groups joined the homeless vets for another banquet before sending them back to their motel for a second night.

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“It was a very emotional couple of days,” says Colosimo, himself a vet and the father of a military family. “On the third day, we gave them breakfast, and then they went back out into the woods or wherever they had been staying.”

Most homeless vets camp out in the woods, moving from place to place to hide from the police who are always looking to kick them out of their camps, according to Dennis St. Lawrence, chaplain for the American Legion Post.

It seems heartbreaking to send our vets back out into the swamp, but Colosimo saw the upside. Twenty homeless vets came in to the Christmas celebration a year ago, and seven of them have since found jobs and housing.

“We’re trying to end homelessness one vet at a time,” Don LePore, veteran affairs chairman for the American Legion Post, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

This year’s vets now know there are people they can trust and look to for help. And they’ve been given cell phones so the volunteers can keep in touch with them. Finally, the two groups are working to find free housing for vets who are willing to accept it.

“These vets don’t need a handout,” Colosimo says. “They need a hand up.”

Anyone interested in contributing to this cause can call “Crazy Eddie” Colosimo at 386/316-7441 or email him at bffar@hotmail.com.

 

 

         

 

Eric Newhouse is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of Alcohol: Cradle to Grave and Faces of Combat: PTSD and TBI.

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