Groups work to bring in Valley's homeless veterans - FOX Carolina 21

Groups work to bring in Valley's homeless veterans

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Serren Boys enlisted in the U.S. Army in his early 20s and has been living on the streets of Phoenix for about a year. (Source: CBS 5 News) Serren Boys enlisted in the U.S. Army in his early 20s and has been living on the streets of Phoenix for about a year. (Source: CBS 5 News)
Johnn Hyslope has been on the streets since his discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1987. He says he  lives on the streets by choice. (Source: CBS 5 News) Johnn Hyslope has been on the streets since his discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1987. He says he lives on the streets by choice. (Source: CBS 5 News)
Ted Vogt, the director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, is working to help bring in the Valley's  homeless veterans. (Source: CBS 5 News) Ted Vogt, the director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, is working to help bring in the Valley's homeless veterans. (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

(This is the first in a series of stories by Nicole Crites on the efforts by the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.)

It's a hard reality to comprehend, but when the men and women of the U.S. military take off their uniforms after they have served and protected the nation, too many wind up on the streets.

The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs set a goal to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.

Every year volunteers go out in the early morning hours in the Phoenix area to count homeless veterans.

"Those of you who served know one of the rules of the military is you never leave a comrade behind," Ted Vogt, the director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, said to a group of homeless veterans.

Bringing in the Valley's homeless

As a recent cadre of volunteers headed out on a warm fall November day, their mission was clear: fan out in squads of four from Phoenix to Tempe and into Mesa.

The objective was to bring in the Valley's homeless veterans.

The greetings and questions were similar for each person met by the volunteers:

"Morning."

"Are you out here living on the streets?"

"We're looking for veterans who are homeless on the street."

"Ever served in the military?"

They loiter by the Valley's light rail. Some lie on benches. Many are shoeless, and others take shelter under the meager bushes.

Past statistics showed that one in every three homeless persons in the Valley was a veteran. Today, it's more like one in 10.

"Where do you sleep most frequently?" a volunteer asked homeless veteran Serren Boys. "You said you weren't registered with the VA?"

"No, I'm not right now," Boys replied.

A homeless vet's story

Boys enlisted in the U.S. Army in his early 20s.

"How long have you been living on the streets?" he was asked.

"I don't know - about a year now," he said.

He carries around one bag, but not a single dollar.

"Carry that, you're liable to get robbed," he said.

He was asked how he felt people treat him.

"Not too bad," Boys said. "I'm not being treated bad or nuthin'."

He went on to say it was possible that people simply ignore him.

He said he hasn't talked to his family in more than a year.

He goes to a shelter to clean up every day, then sleeps outside Phoenix City Hall every night.

By his own account, he is pretty content.

He said he's also confident he'd be able to return to a job rolling newspapers if he shaved - and if he wanted to.

"I'm getting ready to go, uh, real soon," Boys said. "I was thinking about doing it in the next couple days, tryin' to get everything situated because it's starting to get cold. I can feel it, you know. It's time to go in."

He was asked if he thought America's military heroes were being let down.

"Well, it all depends," Boys said. "I don't know what a hero is."

Being homeless a choice for one vet

Johnn Hyslope has been on the street since he was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1987. He said the homeless life is a choice.

"You can never repay somebody to go, especially give their life for their country, OK? Uh, uh, you can't."

He said "some people love being soldiers."

He said pride also keeps a lot of them from asking for, or accepting a handout.

"I try to stay industrious at all times," Hyslope said, adding that he learned to hustle to survive.

"I'm not out here to make $100," he said. "I'll go out and tell myself, 'I want a Whataburger double-burger."

Vogt said the biggest challenge "is going out there and finding the veterans who don't engage with the community or resources."

Vogt, himself a veteran, runs the state department of veterans services. His military career ended in 2006.

"My last deployment, we went from Adak, AK, and split to Misawa (Air Force Base in Japan)," Vogt said. "That's where I was stationed."

These street counts are crucial to making connections with veterans, whether they've slipped through the system or selectively shunned available services.

"Mental health, if they need healthcare, just so much is solved once you've got them into a stable living environment," Vogt said. "Then you can address all those other issues that are compounded when you don't have a place to live."

Hyslope said he's horrified by what he sees, and says there are other homeless vets much worse off and more deserving of help than him.

"I was around a young man last year," Hyslope remembered. "You could see that he had horrible post-traumatic syndrome. I see people that genuinely can't make it out here."

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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