Phoenix's Homeless Veteran Problem Not Solved, Local Homeless Advocates Say
Despite the headlines, not everyone believes Phoenix has housed every homeless veteran in the city.
Amy Silverman Charles Ackles
It's a typical Monday morning for Joe Simek, a veterans advocate at the Justa Center, a day program for homeless seniors in downtown Phoenix.
He stops filling a plastic bag with toiletries for a homeless veteran to chat about his background and his job. Simek is retired Army, served for 27 years -- in Germany, Vietnam, Desert Storm. He worked at the Pentagon. His mantra was always, "Serve the soldier," something he practices to this day.
-John McCain Has Abandoned Fellow Veterans
In Simek's current position at this nonprofit, that means a lot of paperwork. Some homeless vets show up without proof they served, let alone what they need to get Social Security and medical benefits. Simek and his colleagues work closely with the Veterans Administration to get necessary documentation.
Last summer, a man named Charles Ackles came to town from Oklahoma, where he was homeless. Ackles is tall, silver-haired, and handsome at 85. He sits down in Simek's office and tells a story about coming back to Phoenix looking for money from a used-appliance business he once owned. His memory of how the business ended is that he offered his partner champagne, and she threw a cup of coffee in his face.
There's no money, Simek says with a sigh after Ackles leaves; and, yes, the man has advanced dementia. He also served for four years in the Army in the 1940s. Simek was able to track down his paperwork and get the hernia surgery he desperately needed when he showed up last summer. He's doing much better now. But months later, Ackles still lives at a shelter.
Simek tells a few more stories, then he has to go. There are two new homeless veterans waiting to speak with him. Could be worse; there were five the Monday before.