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Hundreds of Homeless Veterans in Mississippi Are A Slice of the National Problem

By Rhonda Miller | Published 10 Nov 2011 04:06pm | comments
Army veteran Spencher Field checks the job board at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi. Field has been homeless for nearly two years. A back injury forced him to stop working as a tractor-trailer driver after 23 years on the road.

On this Veterans Day, thousands of men and women who served in the military are homeless across America.  MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports hundreds of these homeless veterans are in Mississippi.

In a spotless community room at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, homeless Army veteran Spencher Field shows up neatly dressed in a white shirt and a red tie. He’s just come back from a job fair.

"I came to... working with the VA, the Biloxi VA," Field says. "I’ve been homeless 22 months, living in my van, trying to get with the VA for disability purposes."

The nation’s economic troubles only make it more difficult for homeless veterans to get off the street.  The Sonny Montgomery Veterans Medical Center in Jackson estimates about 100 homeless veterans in Hines, Rankin, Copiah, Warren and Madison Counties.

In Biloxi, the Department of Veterans Affairs is aware of 300-to-400 homeless veterans on the Gulf Coast.  Many of them are living in tents in the woods. Homeless program coordinator for the Gulf Coast VA, Margaret Scurfield, says health care, housing and job training are among the services offered.

"We don’t really focus on the why. We focus on the fact that one homeless veteran is one too many," Skurfield says. "And so our job, no kidding, is to meet the veteran where they are, where they live and ask them what it is they want. Not every veteran wants a placement, for example, in an apartment."

But that’s exactly what 56-year-old Army veteran Don Wiley wants, instead of coming to Back Bay Mission for a shower and sleeping under bridges.

“I’d like to have a job and a nice place to live, but I just take it day-by-day as it comes," says Wiley.

Even with even two years of college and years of work experience as a  cook, it’s been more difficult for Wiley since he had a heart attack two years ago. He’s even applied for veteran’s housing.

"You get on the list and you’re always getting bumped down. Which is fine because you have veterans who come back who have amputees, you have veterans with families, they get priority," says Wiley.

A recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are 144,000 homeless veterans in the country.

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Army veteran Spencher Field checks the job board at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi. Field has been homeless for nearly two years. A back injury forced him to stop working as a tractor-trailer driver after 23 years on the road.


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