Veterans as Community Heroes

Many veterans have difficulty transitioning back into civilian life or have side effects from service that eventually derails their stability and causes them to become homeless or suicidal.  This can be for any number of reasons.  One thing is certain, we must find a way to end suicide, homelessness, and alcoholism and drug addiction as the final destination for so many of our veterans.

While it won’t seem relevant at first how it might help veterans better reintegrate back into civilian life, a brief description of my neighborhood is necessary.

Over the years I’ve watched my neighborhood change rapidly.  One of those changes has been the massive influx of vulnerable and marginalized populations into the neighborhood as they are segregated away from ‘nice’ neighborhoods.  This includes people of color, immigrants and refugees, disabled, low income families, and elderly, among others.  My neighborhood has two federally identified food deserts, more unpaved roadways than any other in the City of Portland, numerous intersections on the City’s list of most dangerous intersections, including the most dangerous in the state of Oregon according to the Oregon Department of Transportation, and the vast majority of residential streets with no curb or sidewalk.  My neighborhood also has over 50 adult residential care facilities.  The one on my street houses folks working on mental health issues, but these facilities serve folks with a wide range of issues and needs specific to them. 

My neighborhood is like several in Portland and far too many in the United States — in desperate need of heroes.  And this is where our veterans come in.

Leaving a highly structured environment like active military duty for one with no structure at all can make re-entering civilian life a challenge if you have no safety net of family and friends waiting for you upon your return.  To provide a more gradual transition into civilian life, veteran participants would be housed in an area of the City identified as needing focused attention by the City to increase livability and social and economic equity.  Participating veterans would live in an environment structured very similar to active duty with the exception of personal quarters instead of a barracks set-up like boot camp.  

Daily life could include structured group exercise; instruction on meal preparation in a community kitchen with emphasis on healthy eating choices; mental health check-ins with a military trained and certified therapist; job search support and employment skill-building; and community involvement activities.

Community involvement activities could include: taking a leadership or active role in neighborhood bike patrol or watches; litter clean-ups; graffiti removal; invasive species removal; projects at schools and public places; mentoring and working with adult residential care residents and local students; infrastructure support such as filling potholes, installing and/or repairing sidewalks, or cleaning out street drains; staffing community fundraising events, such as bottle and can drives; acting as crossing guards; providing safety support at public events; teaching safety skills to elderly, school children, residential care facility residents, and other groups.

My personal hope would be that most or all participating veterans would stay in the neighborhood they were based once they graduate from the program.

This document created by Mark White and made possible by the Mark for Portland 2020 campaign.  — 503-761-0222