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December 13, 2012

Homeless military veterans need coats this winter

AMVETS, MHIWC and others collect for cause

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

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Between now and Christmas, winter coats are being collected at the library in Madison Heights and at VFW Post 9021 in Warren — and the reason for the collection may come as a surprise.

As it stands, there’s no guarantee that the men and women in uniform will be taken care of, once they’re done with their tour of duty. Many put their life on the line in pursuit of peace, seeing terrible things and suffering great loss along the way. Yet when they return to America, some are unable to adjust to civilian life, or are saddled with image issues that hinder their ability to find work. The result is they end up homeless, on the streets or in one of nearly a dozen shelters around Metro Detroit.

There are at least 520 homeless veterans in area shelters and thousands more statewide, according to Gerry Moore, commander for AMVETS District 2, the driving force behind the coats collection initiative. The vets in the shelters in Metro Detroit are first priority, Moore said, but he doesn’t want to stop there.

“If we get more than the 500 we’re aiming for, we’ll take them as far as the Upper Peninsula, because we can get in touch with groups all over the state to find homeless vets wherever they’re at, and take care of them,” Moore said.

All 33 assemblies of the Knights of Columbus in the Archdiocese of Detroit are behind the cause. So are the other AMVETS districts. And schools such as Utica High, Milford High and Armada High have already done coat drives or are planning them.

“We’ll get a significant number from those locations,” Moore said. “I’m very proud of the work of the kids.”

Over in Madison Heights, the Madison Heights Intermediate Women’s Club (MHIWC), part of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, has championed the cause.

Andrea Geralds is an MHIWC member and the granddaughter of Barbara Geralds, one of the founding members of the club. She previously chaired a fundraiser through MHIWC to raise money for the Detroit Veterans Center, the event held in conjunction with the Madison Heights Citywide Garage Sale.

When Moore contacted her about the growing number of homeless vets, she turned to the club to see if they could help, and once again found the necessary support.

“There’s no sense of ego in this group, no sense of ‘I need to be personally gratified to do this,’ which makes it very easy to get things done,” Geralds said of the MHIWC.

She noted how some employers hear about vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD and see them as depressed or violent, and shy away from hiring them. But many vets need the simple stability of a working routine, and they have much to offer their employers.

“The civilian population doesn’t fully appreciate what skills the veterans have,” Geralds said. “They don’t recognize the engineering skills, the ability to work as a team and take direction without arguing. It’s not being valued. And there’s this perception of transition difficulties: They go into the military at 18 and don’t learn how to balance checkbooks and such.”

As such, many veterans struggle to assimilate back into society.

To keep them warm this winter as they try to get back on their feet, the MHIWC has already gathered a number of coats and donated them to AMVETS, a licensed nonprofit. But more needs to be done.

“I think as a society, whether or not you believe that veterans are really out there protecting America from the bad guys — and I know a lot are skeptical — these guys believed it, and they were willing to die for it, to die to keep you safe,” Geralds said. “As a society, we should appreciate that fact.”

The Madison Heights Public Library is located at 240 W. 13 Mile near John R in Madison Heights and can be reached at (248) 588-7763. VFW Post 9021 is located at 32100 Ryan Road in Warren and can be reached at (586) 264-3490.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.