Hope for Hawaii's homeless veterans: Part 2

Marko Johnson
Marko Johnson
Johnson reaches out to homeless people to search for Vets
Johnson reaches out to homeless people to search for Vets
Johnson (on right) informs a Vet of opportunities
Johnson (on right) informs a Vet of opportunities
Douglas Eggleston's shelter
Douglas Eggleston's shelter
Douglas Eggleston
Douglas Eggleston

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - "My name is Marko, man. I'm looking for the veterans," Marko Johnson said.

That's his greeting as he approaches people he thinks might be veterans down on their luck.

His marching orders take him to a world few outsiders see.

Johnson handles outreach for U.S. Vets. The Kalaeloa shelter assists homeless veterans. But first he has to find them.

Alone or accompanied by a social worker Johnson goes door to door in a world without walls, places that defy description, where the homeless congregate.

"All right, man. You ex-military?" he announces to a man living under the Nimitz Highway overpass.

When he makes contact with a homeless veteran, Johnson offers food, shelter, and a way out of homelessness.

"I usually state to them that I'm with U.S. Vets," he said.

He asks them if they're familiar with the organization and if they would like to learn more about it.

Results are fruitful or frustrating.

"I do some drugs," one man tells him.

"Would you be willing to give that up? Make some changes?" Johnson asks.

"No," the man answers.

Johnson relates to homeless veterans because he once walked in their shoes.

After a stint in the Navy, personal issues, pride and ego drove him down and drove a wedge in his family

For a time he didn't have a place to call home.

"I've been exposed to some of the things they're going through emotionally, physically and mentally. And I understand the street," he said.

US Vets saved him then hired him to find homeless veterans.

Five days a week he goes into shelters and soup kitchens. He looks under bridges and freeways and most recently into caves.

Ex-soldier Douglas Eggleston has lived in a coastline cave for years. He recycles for money and fishes for food.

He doesn't want to leave.

"I don't need a baby sitter. And to regulate my living? I earn my respect, I think," he said.

But Johnson never takes rejection as a final answer. He'll be back.

"We access whatever need and we address and the only thing we go by is what they say," he said.

Johnson said the Kalaeloa shelter is full of veterans who first had to come to the end of themselves before they reached out for help.

Josh Finn is one of them.

"Substance abuse, drinking and smoking marijuana, it was a strangle hold of depression that I needed to fix," he said. "Vets are everywhere. Wherever there's homeless people there's vets."

Johnson has catalogued seventy spots on Oahu where he has found homeless veterans.

He knows there are more.

He's built a network of contacts within the homeless community. They let him know when a vet moves in and where to find him..

"They stand straight forward. They look you in the eye. And usually, veterans ask for help," he said.

Five days a week for the past four years Johnson's sought out homeless veterans.

"How's it going, buddy? Ex-military?" he asks a man living in behind a wall of cardboard boxes.

Johnson has taken scores of them off the street to the Kalaeloa shelter where they get back on their feet..

When the sun comes up tomorrow he'll be making the rounds again.

U.S. Vets holds its Patriot Walk and Run fundraiser Saturday at the Waterfront at Puuloa.

For more information go to patriotrunhawaii.com.

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