Monday, December 15, 2014

Give US Your Poor's newest member: Andrea Locke

I write today as the newest member of the dedicated Give US Your Poor team.  My name is Andrea Locke and I am joining as an AmeriCorps VISTA mem
ber. Before I started last month I had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta, GA for AmeriCorps orientation. On my way to Atlanta it felt so appropriate that as I flipped through the Delta Sky Magazine that I would come upon an article with the opening sentence: “In 2013, Pew Research Center ranked 10 occupational groups by perceived value to society. Not surprisingly, the military topped the list, with 78 percent of U.S. adults saying that America’s armed forces contribute ‘a lot’ to the country’s well-being.”

This is great news, but as Chris Clayton’s article titled “Opening Doors” continues, it highlights the disconnect between what he calls ‘our cheerleading and the reality facing many military members and veterans.’ Clayton chose to focus his article on the problems and solutions for veterans transitioning back to civilian life by way of employment. Raising our attention to staggering figures such as the 722,000 unemployed veterans in the U.S. in 2013, the 9% unemployment rate among veterans having served from September 2001 to today, and the 250,000 service members that enter civilian life each year.

I acknowledged the severity of these figures as I flew South over New York and the Appalachian Mountains.  However, it also made me think ahead to my upcoming start at Give US Your Poor and another subset of veterans returning home. Those coming home to their country, yes, but not home to a roof over their heads. In 2013 there were 50,000 homeless veterans on any given night, and 29 of every 10,000 veterans are homeless. All hope is not lost, in 2009 the Obama Administration committed to ending veteran homelessness in the U.S. by the end of 2015. And since 2010 the number of homeless veterans has gone down by 33%. I am looking forward to my new role at Give US Your Poor and dedicating myself to ending veteran homelessness once and for all; by putting every soldier (society’s number one valued occupation) coming home to the U.S. into a home of brick and mortar. 

The orientation was a great success and truly instilled a sense of pride in all of us as VISTAs, as Volunteers In Service To America, with the overarching goal of eradicating poverty. I have also learned valuable tools and connections to hit the ground running now that I am back in Boston.
Prior to dedicating myself to Give US Your Poor I grew up in Upstate New York on Seneca Lake. I continued on to study history & political science at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC. Most recently, I graduated with a Master’s of Science in European Affairs from Lund University in southern Sweden. More personally, I love being outdoors, hiking, and exploring, whether that be internationally or around the block. Having just moved to Boston I have a lot of exploring to do on the weekends!

I am looking forward to making meaningful connections with all of you in the coming months. Feel free to contact me anytime.

Andrea Locke

Friday, September 5, 2014

Excerpt: Thank You For Your Service

This excerpt from Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel first appeared and was taken from

You could see it in his nervous eyes. You could see it in his shaking hands. You could see it in the three prescription bottles in his room: one to steady his galloping heart rate, one to reduce his anxiety, one to minimize his nightmares. You could see it in the screensaver on his laptop — a nuclear fireball and the words FUCK IRAQ — and in the private journal he had been keeping since he arrived.

His first entry, on February 22:

Not much going on today. I turned my laundry in, and we're getting our TAT boxes. We got mortared last night at 2:30 a.m., none close. We're at FOB Rustamiyah, Iraq. It's pretty nice, got a good chow hall and facilities. Still got a bunch of dumb shit to do though. Well, that's about it for today.

His last entry, on October 18:

I've lost all hope. I feel the end is near for me, very, very near. Darkness is all I see anymore.

So he was finished. Down to his final hours, he was packed, weaponless, under escort, and waiting for the helicopter that would take him away to a wife who had just told him on the phone: "I'm scared of what you might do."

"You know I'd never hurt you," he'd said, and he'd hung up, wandered around the FOB, gotten a haircut, and come back to his room, where he now said, "But what if she's right? What if I snap someday?"

It was a thought that made him feel sick. Just as every thought now made him feel sick. "You spend a thousand days, it gets to the point where it's Groundhog Day. Every day is over and over. The heat. The smell. The language. There's nothing sweet about it. It's all sour," he said. He remembered the initial invasion, when it wasn't that way. "I mean it was a front seat to the greatest movie I've ever seen in my life." He remembered the firefights of his second deployment. "I loved it. Anytime I get shot at in a firefight, it's the sexiest feeling there is." He remembered how this deployment began to feel bad early on. "I'd get in the Humvee and be driving down the road and I would feel my heart pulsing up in my throat." That was the start of it, he said, and then Emory happened, and then Crow happened, and then he was in a succession of explosions, and then a bullet was skimming across his thighs, and then Doster happened, and then he was waking up thinking, "Holy shit, I'm still here, it's misery, it's hell," which became, "Are they going to kill me today?" which became, "I'll take care of it myself," which became, "Why do that? I'll go out killing as many of them as I can, until they kill me.

"I didn't give a fuck," he said. "I wanted it to happen. Bottom line — I wanted it over as soon as possible, whether they did it or I did it."

The amazing thing was that no one knew. Here was all this stuff going on, pounding heart, panicked breathing, sweating palms, electric eyes, and no one regarded him as anything but the great soldier he'd always been, the one who never complained, who hoisted bleeding soldiers onto his back, who'd suddenly begun insisting on being in the right front seat of the lead Humvee on every mission, not because he wanted to be dead but because that's what selfless leaders would do.

He was the great soldier who one day walked to the aid station and went through the door marked COMBAT STRESS and asked for help and now was on his way home.

Now he was remembering what the psychologist had told him: "With your stature, maybe you've opened the door for a lot of guys to come in."

"That made me feel really good," he said. And yet he had felt so awful the previous day when he told one of his team leaders to round up everyone in his squad.

"What'd we do now?"

"You didn't do anything," he said. "Just get them together."

They came into his room, and he shut the door and told them he was leaving the following day. He said the hard part: that it was a mental health evacuation. He said to them, "I don't even know what I'm going through. I know that I don't feel right."

"Well, how long?" one of his soldiers said, breaking the silence.

"I don't know," he said. "There's a possibility I won't be coming back."

They had rallied around him then, shaking his hand, grabbing his arm, patting his back, and saying whatever nineteen- and twenty-year-olds could think of to say.

"Take care of yourself," one of them said.

"Drink a beer for me," another said.

He had never felt so guilt-ridden in his life.

Early this morning, they had driven away on a mission, leaving him behind, and after they'd disappeared, he had no idea what to do. He stood there for a while alone. Eventually he walked back to his room. He turned up his air conditioner to high. When he got cold enough to shiver, he put on warmer clothes and stayed under the vents. He packed his medication. He stacked some packages of beef jerky and mac 'n' cheese and smoked oysters, which he wouldn't be able to take with him, for the soldiers he was leaving behind and wrote a note that said "Enjoy."

Finally it was time to go to the helicopter, and he began walking down the hall. Word had spread through the entire company by now, and when one of the soldiers saw him, he came over. "Well, I'll walk you as far as the shitters, because I have to go to the bathroom," the soldier said, and as last words, those would have to do, because those were the last words he heard from any of the soldiers in his battalion as his deployment came to an end.

His stomach hurt as he made his way across the FOB. He felt himself becoming nauseated. At the landing area, other soldiers from other battalions were lined up, and when the helicop ter landed, everyone was allowed to board except him. He didn't understand.

"Next one's yours," he was told, and when it came in a few minutes later, he realized why he'd had to wait. It had a big red cross on the side. It was the helicop ter for the injured and the dead.

That was him, Adam Schumann.

He was injured. He was dead. He was done.

Excerpted from THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE by David Finkel, published in October 2013 by Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright 2013 by David Finkel. All rights reserved. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"On Homelessness" by Frank Calisi

This is my third time being homeless. I do not like being in a shelter. It is a daily struggle. I must follow the rules and yet my fellow vets make me feel conflicted about what is right. It isn’t always easy to follow what your instincts tell you is the right path. I currently reside in the NECHV. It’s a dry shelter on paper, although many here do still drink. It’s a shell game as to who gets caught – who is more drunk than the next. I’ve only drank a few times. It is nerve wracking. I do not enjoy it – at least not here. I also go to AA meetings. To drink is like going against the grain of what I know is right, what is expected of me and what I feel like doing. I know deep inside that it is therapeutic to have these constraints. This place is a microcosm of the real world except that we are all veterans. At times, it’s like walking on eggshells around here. Don’t rock the boat. That’s my inner self talking to me. Do your KPS, deck duty, make all medical and social appointments. There’s a sub drug culture here, too. Another one of my downfalls – just the thought of being thrown out scares me into being on the straight and narrow.

I have been here five months. It’s time to move on. Yes, I have applied to various apartments. I have been rejected by three because of my past record. Today I looked at a market rate one in Lynn – kinda small, 50’s style, old, but solid. They accepted my application but I want to still look. Don’t want to jump into anything. It’s scary and hard to transition from one institution to being all free. These walls play tricks on my mind. I guess you could safely say that I am institutionalized. I’ve been doing the routine. I have become dependent in many ways on this institution. Transitioning to an apartment is scary.

I have been accepted to the bridges program. It does just that – gives you a way back onto the mainland of society. I get an outside caseworker who will visit me for 9 months, who will help make sure I fit into the community I will live in. Mental health, sobriety and physical well-being are my goals. I will follow-through. This English class keeps my mind in check. I am grateful for it. It allows me to pass the time constructively. Yes, you can say it’s therapeutic. Just writing this paper right now is therapeutic. It gives me room to write honestly and perhaps to see the virtue in life. “It’s a journey,” I heard one of the other students say. I feel like my journey stretches out in front of me into thousands of miles  -  I feel like I have covered maybe a few hundred so far. I must keep one foot in front of the other, walk the straight and narrow line of this life.

Frank Calisi is a U.S. veteran and a resident at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, where he is a member of the Glass House Shelter Project, a writing partnership with the University of Massachusetts Boston.