SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— A recent United States Census Bureau report estimates that there may be over 100,000 veterans living on the streets in the U.S. On any given day that means a small fraction of that figure will enjoy a free meal at St. Anthony’s Dining Hall in San Francisco where 20 percent of those who eat those meals are veterans.
Robert Williams served in the Vietnam War from 1963 to 1971. Now he lives on San Francisco’s streets and suffered years of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and other mental illnesses. He says he wishes the military had been there for him.
“They gave me nothing. They gave me a big party, a big parade when I came home, [I] go get a newspaper the next day and I hear I’m a baby killer,” Williams said. He said he shot and killed hundreds of people in Vietnam as well as lost many comrades. He often wonders why he was the lucky one who made it home.
Jack Hannah also served in Vietnam, jumping from aircraft and was a decorated soldier. He considers his life to be much better, after BART police helped him get out of train stations and seek help. He has his own place now, but even so, he says he feels let down by the government.
“I don’t so much think that they owe me something, but they made a commitment and I did too. I lived up to my end. Time for them to live up to theirs,” he says. He notes that history repeats itself and that when the president promised men their jobs back after they came back from World War II, their jobs had been filled by replacements.
Vets on the streets or in shelters do receive any number of services from organizations like St. Anthony’s Foundation or Swords To Plowshares.
James Jefferson says he thinks opportunities for veterans are improving. “I think they have more and more programs to help the homeless vets, because if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have the place I have now.” After living the “nightmare” of life on the streets in the cold and rain, he lives in his studio apartment and for that— he says he’s grateful this Memorial Day.