Retired teacher and former Army serviceman Ken Walker has a passion for helping fellow veterans in need. The Portland native spends his time serving homeless servicemen and women who require transportation to the doctor’s office or grocery store.
Bob Reese is one of many veterans who have gratefully received Walker’s help. “Give him a call, say you gotta do this or that, and he’ll come with his car, take you where you gotta go, do what you gotta do,” Reese told KATU news.
Reese lost access to permanent housing last year, but anticipates moving into a private apartment in June. Walker wants to ensure that veterans like Reese make the transition back to permanent housing successfully.
“To me, this is vets helping vets and keeping vets in housing,” Walker explained. “You know, formerly homeless vets but now they’re in housing, and I want to keep them there.”
To help needy veterans ease the burden of food insecurity, Walker also runs a food pantry and household items distribution center at his church. “A lot of guys when they become homeless they lose everything,” Walker said. “They’re starting from scratch.”
Walker provides more than material goods to the destitute, however. For many veterans, he also offers friendship, empathy, and a listening ear. “We hang out and get a burger and we talk,” said veteran Scott Ramsden. “He’s the only person I can talk to about my problems, that I know he’s listening and really cares. He’s my best friend.”
Walker encourages the public to recognize both the vulnerability and dignity of homeless individuals. “If you see homeless people, treat them with respect,” he explained. “You know, look at them, talk to them, you know they are people too.”
In Walker’s experience, grateful hearts amply reward his efforts to treat the homeless with compassion.
On October 14th, Oregon City residents donated part of their weekend to help construct shelters for homeless veterans.
In Clackamas County, the city of Portland and Portland State University partnered to fund the effort–a transitional shelter pilot project on county land which will provide up to 30 homeless service members with a dry place to spend the night.
“I think people deserve shelter,” explained project construction manager Brendan Murphy. “If we’re a community we need to take care of people who don’t have shelter.”
The county, city, and university have taken care to reduce the environmental impact of the new dwellings: each shelter incorporates wood recycled from Oregon’s Pickathon Music Festival.
Ultimately, project leaders hope to provide homeless veterans with an entry point into more permanent, secure living situations. “The goal is people will live [in the shelters] in order to stabilize their lives and then move into transitional housing,” Murphy stated. Thanks to Oregon City’s generous residents, that goal is becoming a reality.
On Saturday, March 25th, North Carolina native Oscar Davis Jr. finally received the Purple Heart he earned during WWII exactly 72 years, one month and two weeks ago. Davis had been assigned to “Animal” Company of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was wounded while serving as a radiotelephone operator during the Battle of the Bulge.
Pvt. Davis was knocked down by a piece of German shrapnel while his unit was under shellfire. The radio on his back protected him from immediate death. The shells struck a nearby tree, which fell on Davis, causing a spinal injury that paralyzed him from the waist down for three weeks. Once Davis recovered, he rejoined his unit in Germany.
Davis had been told years ago that he would receive the Purple Heart, an award that recognizes troops wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the United States. Unfortunately, the paperwork for the award was never signed.
The medal ceremony took place in a dining room at Heritage Place in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The 92 year-old veteran was smiling as Lt. Col. Marcus Wright, commander of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, pinned it to his jacket. “This has been some day,” said Davis. “I couldn’t believe all this was going to happen. I just want to thank the Lord.”
Family and friends of Davis’ attended the ceremony, along with soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and 82nd Airborne Division.
“All I can say about this is ‘Wow’,” Lt. Col. Wright said. “I’m absolutely honored to be here today.” Wright presided over the whole event.
After the medal was awarded, soldiers from A Company presented Davis with a unit coin and a shirt. Dozens of people lined up to shake Davis’ hand. The medal ceremony was the result of almost two years of work undertaken by the Veterans’ Legacy Foundation, a North Carolina-based organization that helps veterans receive the awards that are owed to them. Volunteers searched an entire archive of war reports for proof of Davis’ injuries, said foundation director John Elscamp. In 2015, the Veterans’ Legacy Foundation helped Davis receive the Bronze Star and other awards that he had earned but never collected.
89-year-old Joe Bartley of England, was finding retirement boring. Bartley retired from his position as a college janitor six years ago and lost his wife Cassie just a year ago.
Bartley describes his retirement as “solitary confinement” and decided to place an advertisement in his local paper, The Herald Express, hoping for the best.
“Senior citizen 89 seeks employment in Paignton area,” the ad read. “20hrs+ per week. Still able to clean, light gardening, DIY, and anything. I have references. Old soldier, airborne services. Save me from dying of boredom!”
The advertisement gained quite a bit of attention from television stations and newspapers. Bartley received a call from the Cantina Kitchen and Bar in Paignton, Devon where he successfully landed a job as a waiter.
“I don’t think I’ve had a job interview before,” he said. “I’m joyfully surprised at the outcome – I’m really glad I got it.”
Bartley began working on Sunday, Dec. 4 and he is looking forward to getting to know the restaurant’s customers.
“They all seem really nice and one lady gave me a kiss. You don’t see anybody where I am, in a flat, so I’m looking forward to getting involved and meeting people,” Bartley said.
Bartley hopes to work around 20 hours a week doing different tasks such as cleaning, preparing vegetables, and waiting tables.
Cantina’s customers have already taken a liking to the lively man.
“He is a dear old boy,” said 75-year-old customer Margaret Berwick.
On September 21st, a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place for a new project that seeks to provide housing for homeless veterans in Vancouver, Wa.
Freedom’s Path at Vancouver Apartments provides chronically homeless vets with studio and 1-bedroom apartments, including access to a cyber cafe, a workout room, medical care on the VA campus, employment services and mental health care, all on-site.
Fifty units make up Freedom’s Path, providing homes to vets like Air Force Veteran Karl Colbert, who served from 1970-1971.
“Just having a place of my own has been more of a blessing than anything I could have imagined,” Colbert says. “Even though my life had been disruptive for a time, having the housing component available to me right now means that I have a base now.”
Colbert has been at Freedom’s Path for about 3 weeks and is already establishing himself, recently graduating from the residential treatment program on campus, which is near the college.
Paul MacPherson with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Vancouver says Freedom’s Path is part of a unique program in the federal government that provides supportive housing.
“We understand homelessness among veterans is unacceptable and that we’re doing everything we can to possibly help,” said MacPherson. “This is just one way of using the real estate we have, our under-utilized real estate to address this particular issue.”
It’s already affected Colbert: “Even though I’d formulated in my mind that I had been forgotten, the community has not forgotten us as veterans,” he says. “I’ve been offered so much and I’ve been given so much that I need to find a way to give back.”