Next month is the celebration of Christmas, Kwanzaa, the birth of Muhammad (Islam) and Hanukkah. But whatever religion you practice and holiday you celebrate, charity and love are two qualities that are taught to their followers.

Homelessness, especially among veterans, is one issue where we can practice what we learn in our houses of worship. The Veteran’s Administration (VA) estimated a bit less than 16,000 homeless veterans on the streets in January 2016. Since July 1, 1973, we have had an all-volunteer military. Which means the government and we the people owe something in return for their service, wherever or whenever they served. PTSD, physical wounds, mental health issues or just plain bad luck are some of the issues at play here. Despite these obstacles, we can help them overcome their problems.

Fortunately, the VA and private organizations have stepped up to the plate and started to rectify this situation. The American Legion as a whole, supports many of these programs, but I would like to focus on two that Post 86 in Wilton has supported over the years.

In 2000, the Applied Behavioral Rehabilitation Institute (ABRI) started operations, the purpose of which was to provide support for the homeless, both veteran and non-veteran. In 2002, with funds provided by the VA, state Department of Social Services and corporations, The Homes for the Brave was opened with a 42-bed home for homeless male veterans. Five of these beds are reserved for non-veteran individuals. The goal of this program is stated in its mission statement: “With an emphasis on Veterans, we provide the housing and services necessary to help homeless individuals return to a productive and meaningful life.”

They do this through housing, counseling, job training, job search, and general lessons on being independent. It may surprise some to learn that some of these veterans don’t know how to keep a bank account, write a check, dress for a job interview, shop for groceries or even pay bills. They learn these skills and more through this terrific program.

The PFC Nicholas A. Madaras Home was opened in 2011 as a supplement to The Homes for the Brave. Female Soldiers, Forgotten Heroes is a similar program for female veterans and in some cases, their children. With 10 beds for the veteran, and five beds for their children (when available), it is the first, and sadly still, only female homeless residence for veterans in Connecticut. These ladies learn life, employment and family skills to regain their independence.

To date, over 1,100 men and women have had their lives changed with these homeless programs. I have seen these programs in action and have heard people who have completed these programs, speak to their experiences. I am always uplifted to hear them speak.

If you perform one act of love and charity this holiday season, find out what you can do to help these men and women turn their lives around.
Tom Moore, Adjutant
American Legion Post 86
Information: https://www.homesforthebrave.org/

https://www.homesforthebrave.org/programs/female-soldiers-forgotten-heroes/.

Wilton’s James B. Whipple American Legion Post 86 is on Old Ridgefield Road in Wilton Center. Information: post86legion.org.