After not attending Mass in over six years, walking into a church is the last thing I thought I would be doing on Monday, November 11. I gravitated toward the back row. As soon as I sat down, members of the Church of the Epiphany welcomed me. They asked what my name was, where I went to school, and introduced me to other friends and family–my uneasiness quickly began to fade. The service at the historic church in downtown Washington started in an unconventional way: Motown renditions echoed throughout the room and everyone sang along. Afterwards, the pastor, Randolph Charles came to the front to thank all of the veterans in the crowd.
Most of them were homeless.
According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, there are more than 300,000 U.S. veterans living on the streets or in shelters on any given night. Furthermore, veterans constitute a third of the adult homeless population in the U.S.
As the federal holiday of Veterans Day honored all those who have served our nation, one can wonder if our veterans on the street get proper recognition. The Church of the Epiphany did what it could by hosting a dinner immediately after their Nov 11 service. Free to all, it included unlimited pasta, soup, bread, and aisles of desserts. Dozens of homeless veterans were able to share their stories and let their voices be heard.
I was overwhelmed by the kindness shown by everyone. I was immediately offered food and a place to sit. What would happen if the tables had been turned? Here I am, a middle-class white undergrad student at an event in which I clearly stand out, yet was accepted and taken care of just as everyone else. Do we live in a society where a homeless person could show up to an event of sheltered middle/upper class individuals and be embraced as an equal and offered food and kindness? The dreamer in me says yes, but I have my doubts.
America has between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans that are homeless at some point during any given year. So many of our veterans have come back home to find affordable housing out of their reach. One attendee, homeless advocate John McDermott, spoke of the struggles of lives on the streets and the importance of affordable housing. The words of Anthony Love, a senior advisor for the Veterans Healthcare Administration, rang powerfully in the back of my mind, “We must make noise about this issue. Silence is consent. We must stand against this disgrace on our veterans.”