Outreach event serves vets, homeless

October 25, 2013 • Local News

Mary Ann Keegan, homeless for years, has a cup of coffee as her three-legged puppy, Toby, receives attention from Marilyn Nishitani, a nurse practioner from Lovelace Regional Hospital, dur[auth] ing Stand Down for Homeless Veterans at the Roswell Boys & Girls Club, Friday. (Mark Wilson Photo)

The Hispano Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Southeast New Mexico Veterans Transportation Network, Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, New Mexico Workforce Solutions, Goodwill Industries and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, based in Albuquerque, pooled their resources to hold an outreach program, a Stand Down for Homeless Veterans, Friday.

The program offered food, including breakfast and lunch; job counseling; flu shots, along with other health services; and clothing and sleeping bags from the Department of Defense Surplus for those vets who will be living rough this winter.

David Sena, coordinator for Health Care and Homeless Veterans, said this was the first event of this kind in Roswell, but he hopes it won’t be the last. Health Care and Homeless Veterans provides transitional housing for homeless vets in Albuquerque to help get them on their feet, job training, dental plans and rehabilitation services.

Much was discussed about the lack of adequate shelters for the homeless in Roswell. Antonio Nunez of Workforce Solutions Disabled Veterans Outreach Program, who organized the event, spoke of the defunct project to turn the old New Mexico Rehabilitation Center into housing and a place for training programs, which was halted when the New Mexico General Services Department decided to see if they could sell the building for a profit. The facility has now been made derelict and will cost millions to demolish. He said: “What profit is there for the vet if the building is torn down?”

Greg Neal, vice president of the Southeast New Mexico Veterans Transportation Network, described his disappointment that the project failed. He said he approached the city to see if something could be done to save the old rehabilitation building, but found little support.

Sena praised the Transportation Network who brought veterans to Albuquerque for health care and to take advantage of those benefits that are not available in Roswell. “We have grants of $41 per day for men, women and women with children to help vets achieve stability.

He urged those people who want to help to contact the National VA Homeless Veteran Hotline at 877-424-3838, to volunteer their services.

Nunez talked of the plight of Mary Ann Keegan, whose Vietnam vet husband and two dogs died in the last two months. She and her husband lived in one of the homeless camps near Roswell Mall and she suffered broken ribs as a result of the recent floods. Keegan, accompanied by her new companion, Toby, the three-legged dog, said that her position was no worse than the average person.

Nunez pointed out that the outreach event was not only intended to benefit vets, but to help all the homeless people in Roswell. He quoted the statistics provided during this year’s homeless count, which documented that there are now 80 homeless vets in Chaves County.

The Hispano Chamber of Commerce donated funds to help get Stand Down 2013 off the ground. HCOC President Romo Villegas, who is a veteran, said it was a worthwhile project. “We need to see if we can expand the program … and we need to look at the future to prevent homelessness.”

Nunez said that many of the people leaving the military find themselves unemployed. “These people worked with multi-million dollar equipment and they get out of the military and wonder why are they good enough to do this work in the military and not in the civilian world.”

Nunez wanted to thank the many organizations which made the day’s events possible — the VA Hospital in Artesia, Lovelace Regional Hospital-Roswell, SCOR Orthopedics, La Familia Dental, New Mexico Health Clinic, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, New Mexico Military Institute, Wal-mart, Sam’s Club, American Legion Post #28, New Mexico Honor Guard and Southwest Cash and Carry.

“This truly was community collaboration with a number of different groups and businesses contributing.”

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