Homeless Vets Fight New Battle

Reported by: Britney Glaser

It's hard to believe, but tonight nearly a quarter million veterans will be sleeping under bridges, in alleys or in homeless shelters.  One local shelter has had to cut housing by fifty percent since Hurricane Rita, but is now on its way to opening doors to more veterans in need.

James Miller joined the United States Army when he was 21 years old.  The tough times of serving during the Vietnam era have never been erased.  "You're a young man when you go over there," says James, "and then you see all the tragedy and it just takes a toll on you."

Four months ago, James was walking down the highway - heading to Texas - when he was stopped by a motorist.  "He said I needed some rest," says James, "and he knew where this place was and he brought me here, and I've been here ever since."

A City of Refuge in Vinton has been this veteran's temporary home, but the hurricane-ravaged property is in less than comfortable conditions.  Susan Mestayer with Rebuilding Together Calcasieu says, "The men are really in substandard living. You can smell the mold when you go in the rooms where they are. The buildings are just really outdated, very old."

Susan has been on the City of Refuge site for the past month, building two new log cabins for these veterans, thanks to a grant from Sears and K-Mart.  "We're hoping that this is phase one of what we can do out here," says Susan, "we would like to be able to come out here and do more."

While these volunteers have never served on the war front, they say serving those who have is putting appreciation into action.  "For us to be able to give just a little bit back to them is a great feeling."

Tuesday, more than a dozen volunteers with Delta Downs decided to donate their time to the homeless veterans.  Volunteer Joey LaFleur says, "They've served and I believe it's our time to serve them."

The veterans who come through this shelter range from World War Two soldiers to present day Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans.  James says he and the hundreds of thousands of other veterans who served years for our country sometimes just need an extra hand during tough times.  "We're not all drug addicts or alcoholics," says James, "we all have problems and we can come here and kind of get our head together...and if it's time to move on, I can move on.  But, I kind of like it here."

A City of Refuge is just one project that Rebuilding Together Calcasieu is working on.  They also rehabilitate homes for the elderly, poor and disabled.  For more information, you can call 433-1755.