Thursday, July 13, 2017

Colonel - The Homeless Vet

Homelessness is something that just should not be. In the journey of my life I've had a lot of opportunity to interact with the homeless - and to love them.

In another story, for another time, I'll share with you Sundays with Patrick and my journey to help a homeless young man change his life.  Inside the story with Patrick, I met a man who people simply called Colonel and this is his story.

When I would go visit Patrick on Sundays, one day under the breezeway, a gentleman with long, silver hair walked up to Patrick and Patrick said, "Hey buddy.  Let me introduce you to someone."  He turned to me and said, 'This is Colonel."

Colonel wasn't his real name but that's the name he used for a very good reason - he was a Colonel in the United States Army and he was homeless.  

Colonel had been homeless and on the street for more than 3 years when I met him.  Colonel tucked at my heart strings and on each visit, I would talk to him about his life - and why he became homeless.

Like so many, Colonel became homeless because he was just thrown away.  And Colonel was sick - sick on the streets, without a physician to treat his diabetes or his congestive heart failure.  There was no one to look in on Colonel out there on the cold, lonely streets of homelessness.

I remember the day I met Colonel for the very first time.  I went back to the comfort of my home, some 2 hours away and wept.  I wept for Colonel and for all homeless people but especially for all the homeless vets, men and women who serve our country and wind up with the clothes on their backs, walking the streets, looking for food, eating out of dumpsters, and sleeping under the bridge or in a cardboard box.

This is America and homeless vets are everywhere.

After Patrick graduated from his long-term program, that mission closed and now, Colonel would not even have that place to come for food and solace.  What next for Colonel?

So I went back to check on Colonel.  It was bitterly cold and that mission had closed - I was concerned about all those homeless men out in the cold so I took blankets to try and find the homeless men who were now on the street.  And I went back to find Colonel.

He wasn't hard to find--walking on the street with his backpack.  He was sleeping at the police station at night, thanks to the graciousness of the police department and wandering the street by day.

He was so grateful for those blankets and tucked them safely into a hidden place so he could help the other homeless men out there on the street.

Colonel and I became friends as I listened to the story of what happened to his life.  On another day, not long after that, I drove back over there, stopping at the grocery store and loading up on groceries and bottled water - and simple things that would be easy for him to eat on the street.

God always made it easy for me to find Colonel and today was no different.  I  handed him the food and the bottled water over the fence of the abandoned mission.  He looked at me and smiled, "You're my guardian angel."  I don't know about that but what I do know is this:  Aren't we all supposed to take care of our own?

I would not see Colonel again for several weeks and when I did it was at the bargain center near the now closed mission.  I went there to visit the former Chaplain of the closed mission who was now working at the bargain center.  There was Colonel, sitting on a sofa in the bargain center and he rushed to give me a hug.  This was the day that I would never forget. He looked at me with his inquisitive, sad blue eyes and said, "I've got to get off the street, I've got to get off the street. I'm sick.  I've got to get help for my diabetes and the congestive heart failure.  I ain't gonna make it if I don't get off the street.  I'll work, I'll do any kind of job."

That day I hugged Colonel tightly and told him I loved him and he responded in kind with a heartfelt "I love you, too."

That was the last time I saw Colonel.  A few weeks later, my friend the Chaplain, texted me to say that Colonel had suffered a massive stroke and was in the hospital, not knowing that he was really in this world.

He died shortly there after.

I can only conclude this piece by saying what is in my heart:  Colonel is no longer homeless for there are no homeless vets in heaven.

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