The tragic and ironic death of a homeless veteran at Laguna’s Relief and Resource Center — which serves anyone in need of help or food — underscores the dire need of services for street-dwellers that not only help them survive from day-to-day, but encourage them to get off the streets.
The victim, a Navy veteran, just 41 years old, had served his country, but his country wasn’t serving him very well.
He was found dead on Aug. 12, after bleeding profusely from cutting his finger breaking a window to enter the resource center, which is not open on the weekends. He had been receiving services at the center for about two years, but had been absent for several months, according to the center’s staff, who are, of course, very upset by the incident.
Veterans, particularly those in the Vietnam and later eras, are especially vulnerable to homelessness, and the National Coalition for Homeless estimates that as many as 40% of homeless men in the U.S. have come out of the military.
The coalition says “despite the widespread perception that Vietnam-era veterans constitute the majority of homeless veterans, research indicates that the veterans who are at greatest risk of homelessness are those who served during the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam era. These veterans had little exposure to combat, but appear to have increased rates of mental illness and addiction disorders. Faced with a lack of affordable housing, declining job opportunities, and stagnating wages, people with these disabilities are more vulnerable to homelessness” ( www.nationalhomeless.org).
We don’t know the personal details of this man’s life, but the coalition also states homeless veterans “are more likely to be white, better educated, and previously or currently married than homeless non-veterans.”
These men and women should not be thrown away.
The city’s Homeless Task Force is meeting every month to talk about how to address the population of homeless that call Laguna’s streets and beaches “home.” Task force members include homeless activists who put many hours into helping individuals, and merchants concerned about the negative effect homeless people can have on a business district.
Other cities have put a lot of effort into trying to help people with no place to live but curbs and alleys, and some cities simply pass the problem on to those who are willing to do something. Laguna Beach, to its credit, is not one of those latter cities.
A lot has been said over the years about what causes homelessness, whether street-dwellers prefer to be on the street than indoors, and how to stop the cycle of homelessness. It is known that many of the homeless are untreated and mentally ill, and yet services for the mentally ill were recently on the state budgetary chopping block.
We hope this homeless veteran’s death in Laguna will strengthen the local commitment to give meaningful help to these people.