Hope for Hawaii's homeless veterans: Part 1

Josh Finn
Josh Finn
Veterans at the VA in the Triper Army Medical Center
Veterans at the VA in the Triper Army Medical Center
Andrew Dahlburg
Andrew Dahlburg
Marko Johnson
Marko Johnson
US Vets shelter in Kalaeloa
US Vets shelter in Kalaeloa

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In war it's kill or be killed. But for thousands who serve our country, the end of combat triggers a battle on another battlefield -- the mind.

"There's times when I'm denying to myself how much it affects me. But, obviously, when I wake up in the middle of the night screaming or remember a certain dream, that makes me think twice," Josh Finn said.

When Finn was honorably discharged, the U.S. Army staff sergeant couldn't adjust to civilian life or shake the demons from three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He was arrested, unemployed, hooked to alcohol and drugs, and homeless.

"I crashed and burned. I was spinning in the mud, just going too fast, living a fast lifestyle. I didn't take time out to calm down, relax and get back on stable ground," he said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates on any given day 107,000 vets are homeless across the U.S. and 1.5 million are at risk of homelessness.

Hawaii's VA occupies a building on the grounds of Tripler Army Medical Center.

While music plays in the lobby, upstairs homeless veterans recite a chorus of sorrows and plead for help.

They're interviewed and directed to agencies that can address their specific needs.

"Some of our veterans might have substance abuse issues. Others might have mental health issues. Others might have both," said Andrew Dahlburg, who heads up the homeless veterans program.

"No veteran should be homeless, I don't really care how you consider it," Marko Johnson said.

For many homeless vets in Hawaii, the road to recovery begins with Johnson. He finds homeless vets on the street and directs them to the VA.

"Whatever need they may have, what they ask for, we try to fill it. If they're hungry we feed them. If they need a place to stay for that night we find out whatever we can do or find a facility where they can stay for that night," he said.

Many of the veterans Johnson encounters are housed in the US Vets shelter in Kalaeloa.

It's estimated there are about 1,500 military who are homeless in Hawaii. And 200 of them are living at the Kalaeloa center.

They live in emergency, transitional and permanent housing. They get help for substance abuse plus career guidance.

Finn is finding himself.

"I want to get rid of any kind of combat stress that may be related to that and everything having to do with that and figure out how I'm going to get back in school and finish college and then move on," he said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is one year into a five-year mission to eliminate homelessness among veterans.

"I'd like to think we could work ourselves out of a job," Dahlburg said.

In Hawaii and across the mainland, outreach workers like Johnson are reaching out to homeless veterans.

But thousands of Americans are still fighting overseas. When those soldiers come home, some will become homeless and add to the ranks of a war that's a long way from being a mission accomplished.

US Vets holds its Patriot Walk and Run fundraiser Saturday morning at the waterfront at Puuloa.

Go to patriotrunhawaii.com for more information.

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