HOUSTON – In Houston, a heartbreaking problem can be seen on many street corners and under countless highways.
On hot, cold, rainy and dry days there are men and women without a roof over their heads. Many are veterans who braved their lives for our country and now are braving the streets.
Melvin Wilcox served in the U.S. Marines. He’s now 60 years old and homeless.
“I don’t go out looking for trouble. I’m not trouble, but it is what it is,” Wilcox said.
In 2020, Harris and Fort Bend Counties total homeless population is trending up slightly year over year, with nearly 4,000 people without housing according to the Coalition for the Homeless.
The lowest homeless count in the last decade was in 2017.
The Coalition indicates the number of homeless veterans they counted in 2020 was 267 compared to 376 in 2019. Of the 267, approximately one out of three was classified as experiencing chronic homelessness.
There is hope the total numbers of homeless individuals and the number of veterans on the streets will decline thanks to work being done across Houston by groups tirelessly doing outreach.
Oscar Gonzalez is the site coordinator for U.S. Vets Houston and is often the first contact for homeless vets looking for a meal, a shower, and a place to call home.
His non-profit organization offers support quickly with little red tape.
“If a veteran comes thru the door and has no ID on him has nothing, he might tell me a unit number, know some lingo, have a tattoo, we will accept that as a self declaration of a veterans status,” Gonzalez said.
While the information does have to be verified, it usually happens in less than a day removing a critical time barrier between despair and progress.
U.S. Vets offers support in a number of ways for veterans but at the office where Gonzalez works, homeless vets find internet access, washing machines, temporary housing, and perhaps most importantly hope.
“If you’re working toward your goal you can get out of the situation,” Gonzalez said.
Wilcox spends most nights on a downtown bus stop bench, but he is making progress and hopes to become another success story for U.S. Vets Houston.
A success story like the one David Patterson now can tell. Patterson is a retired army veteran who lost his home after losing his job. U.S. Vets helped him with transitional housing and regular meals. The hand up eventually lead to a grant which lead to an apartment.
“Being a veteran made it a whole lot easier to get the assistance to get where I am today,” Patterson said.
Where Patterson is today, sheltered and secure, is where Wilcox wants to be soon. With the help of groups like U.S. Vets, he and other veterans are closer to getting off the streets.
When Wilcox was asked if he felt like he was going to get out of his current situation, he responded with two words: “Hell yeah.”
The Veteran’s Administration in Houston also has resources for homeless vets. More information can be found here. The VA’s hotline for homeless veterans can be reached by calling 1-877-4AID VET (1-877-424-3838).