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It’s a little after six on an unusually balmy October 24th in Toledo, Ohio. Music is blaring, pumping up the crowd I am part of as we mill about along the Maumee River in Promenade Park. We are waiting for the beginning of the end…

Founder Ken Leslie talks to the crowd just before the walk begins.

Founder Ken Leslie talks to the crowd just before the walk begins.

Nearly three hundred strong, this throng is ready to Walk to End Veteran Homelessness, and that’s before 1Matters.org and Veterans Matter founder Ken Leslie takes the mic to thank everyone, give out awards, introduce people, talk about why we’re gathered. Though we already know why, it’s still moving to hear about the 475+ veterans, their spouses and their nearly 200 children —  almost 750 people total —  now off the streets and out of shelters and into safe, permanent housing. Those incredible numbers mean individual lives saved from homelessness, and hearing about that progress in just 2.5 years of operating never gets old. It just gets better, and bigger.

Dozens of blue shirts with red and white print are covering these walkers, and on the backs —  at the very top —  are names in black Sharpie, the names of veterans of whom these people will be walking in their honor…or memory. On Ken’s back is veteran and Ohio State Representative Teresa Fedor, herself walking in her own T-shirt…and heels!

I am not walking in anyone’s name. I guess I am walking for all the unhoused vets we have yet to meet and to house. The living Unknown Soldiers who need us to walk —  and fight —  for them.

Recognition given and excitement of purpose amped up, it’s time to walk. I fall in with various friends, chatting people up as we move along. There are pockets of bystanders who cheer us on, along with the cops watching over things at every intersection. The mile goes fast as we walk toward Tent City, a “human awareness project” that has served the unhoused and marginally-housed of Toledo for 25 years. Though we walk toward tents and charity and stories of pain and loneliness and need, the mood is festive because we know what else we’re walking towards: Hope. Family. Faith. Friends, new and old. And we’re walking towards an end to homelessness, for veterans and more.

When we get there, we are greeted again with music, and though the walk is done, the movement isn’t. Dancing erupts in the streets as the DJ plays the Cupid Shuffle, then the Cha-Cha Slide, followed by Wobble… but then someone requests M.C. Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This, and a flash mob forms (see below).

By the end of the night, this crowd has raised almost $15,000 by walking to end veteran homelessness. And, while we walked into a Tent City that would be gone in 48 hours time, we all walked home, too —  for ourselves and others. What an incredible night.

 

Oscar-winning actress and activist Susan Sarandon has joined an impressive roster of celebrities using their influence to raise money and momentum for Veterans Matter, a program which partners with the VA and HUD to help house the 57,000 U.S. veteran men and women who are homeless in our country.

“This is personal to me; I want to help Veterans Matter because it is so important that we work to help house the heroes on our streets,” Sarandon told Veterans Matter founder Ken Leslie during a taping last week at WABC in New York.

To date, Veterans Mater has helped house 475 veterans and veteran families in six states. With 9000 new housing vouchers released this month by HUD and the VA, the group has begun fundraising to help house at least 1000 of those veterans nationwide.

Ever since the Obama Administration announced “Opening Doors,” the national strategic plan to end veteran homelessness by 2015 and all homelessness in America by 2020, veteran homelessness has been reduced 33%.

“Great national effort is being focused on housing our heroes by the end of this year,” said Leslie. “Veterans Matter is simply an avenue for us regular Americans who care about our veterans and veteran families with children to replace the concrete with a pillow under the heads of who gave so much. This is why so many celebrities like Susan are joining our efforts.”

So far eighteen celebrities including Kid Rock, Ice-T, Heart, Kix Brooks and others will be featured in nationally broadcast Veterans Matter PSA’s on Cumulus Media and other radio markets during November to support “Veterans Day” on November 11th.

In a broadcast campaign airing in November with Cumulus Media and other radio properties, Sarandon will encourage people to donate any amount by visiting VeteransMatter.org or texting VETS to 41444. 100% of the funds raised go directly to the housing of veterans.

Sarandon, who also co-produced with Thomas Morgan the homelessness documentary Storied Streets, which her son Jack Henry Robbins directed, will stream nationally November 16th as part of a national awareness campaign for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Veterans Matter, a national program of the John Mellencamp-sparked and supported nonprofit 1Matters, was started by founder Ken Leslie after learning that the biggest obstacle facing many homeless veterans eligible for long-term housing assistance was the lack of a rental deposit. Partnering with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veteran Affairs (VA), Veterans Matter specifically provides those rental deposits for homeless veterans who qualify for long-term voucher-assisted living but are unable fund the initial housing costs.

With the outpouring of celebrity support and the backing of Cumulus Media, Veterans Matter has high hopes of marshaling the support to help house 1,000 more veterans over the next 12 months.

Visit VeteransMatter.org and Facebook.com/VeteransMatter for more information and to join the campaign. For videos with the participating artists visit youtube.com/veteransmatter.

 
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Eagles in nest with baby. Photo: Unknown.

HUD-VASH just officially announced it would release 9,000 new vouchers for the 2015 program, meaning that fundraising for those areas is ready to go.

If you’re a supporter of Veterans Matter, you’ve probably read something like this before. You might be wondering, “is the money I donate now not going to house a vet until 2015?!”

Have no fear! If you donate now, the money you give will go directly toward a vet who’s in need at this very moment.

Every year, HUD-VASH releases a new number of vouchers based on their fiscal year budget and the evaluated need of each region, but the vouchers from the previous year are carried over to the next year. So new vouchers for this coming year mean more opportunities to raise money and support our homeless veterans.

But how exactly does the HUD-VASH program work?

Let’s start from the beginning.

The HUD-VASH program was started in 1992 as a joint effort between the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). By joining forces, the program is able to utilize housing vouchers provided by the HUD in conjunction with VA-funded, veteran-exclusive services, such as health care, counseling, and case management. The VA also sits on the Interagency Council to End Homelessness, a federal agency dedicated to ending homelessness by 2015. Together, these efforts have been combined to help provide not only housing to homeless veterans, but personal assistance in regaining the skills and stability to retain domestic autonomy. Vets work directly with a case manager once housed to assess physical/mental needs and to create a housing stabilization plan, which is an integral part of the vet’s journey to re-acclimation.

Every year the program releases around 10,000 new vouchers based on the fiscal year budget and confirmed need. These vouchers essentially guarantee eligible veterans long-term housing, empowering them to not only leave the cycle of poverty, but break it too.

The one thing that is missing, however, is the initial rental deposit most landlords require before move-in. The HUD-VASH program’s budget doesn’t cover these deposits. That means veterans often have to utilize a number of different federal and local resources, patching together funds to cover the deposit. Seeking these resources requires time and energy, and often prolongs the amount of time any homeless veteran spends on the street.

This is where Veterans Matter comes in. Ken Leslie saw a gap, and realized there was a simple solution: raise money and work directly with HUD-VASH to efficiently route funds to the next vet ready to be housed. No waiting, no worrying about when they can spend a night in their own home.

An efficient, cloud-based system was then created for routing funds quickly enough to house a vet the same day. But Veterans Matter only works to house homeless vets where vouchers are available. Once we’ve funded the number of vouchers in one area, we move onto the next one.

So this 2015 release of vouchers means Veterans Matter has a lot of work to do in the coming year. Join us in helping bridge the gap from homelessness to domestic autonomy. Veterans matter, and we must take care of our own.

 

susansarandoninstudioMonday I [Ken Leslie] flew to New York City to record a PSA with Susan Sarandon. Mike McVay and Randy Bloomquist, our guardian angels at Cumulus Media, had arranged to lend us the use of the WABC studios to produce the PSA. WABC’s Program Director, Chris Schawlb, welcomed us with open arms. He is one of the titans of the talk radio industry as well a gracious and funny man.

Celebrities have “brand equity” and these “brands” are used to generate revenue for the celebrity through the selling products like movies, advertisements, commercial endorsements, etc. Many celebrities use some of their brand equity to lend their name to bring attention to good causes. They say it is the least they can do for their heroes and it helps us immensely.

Then there are the fighters. Susan Sarandon is one of those fighters I have always admired. Like John Mellencamp, or Harry Chapin before him, she too is a lifelong fighter for the downtrodden going back to a trip to Nicaragua in 1983. Like John, she uses her brand equity to fearlessly stand up to be a voice for those who are hurting or unheard.

She is a hero to people who often have none.

Homelessness and veterans’ issues have always been personal to her so she quickly said yes to our project. The time and place were cemented last Thursday, so Monday morning I was on a plane to meet her at the WABC studios in NYC.

When Susan arrived in the studio she had a brilliant radiance of heart. We had much to chat about, from the people we had in common from her many causes to the new documentary she and Tom Morgan produced, and her son Jack Henry Robbins directed, “Storied Streets.”

This is a powerful project that will premiere nationally on November 16th via live stream as part of the National Coalition for the Homeless “Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.” We will work to get a screening of “Storied Streets” here in Toledo. You can “like” Storied Street’s Facebook page linked right here and stay on top of the latest: https://www.facebook.com/thesestoriedstreets

As we chatted, in walks Geraldo Rivera. He and Susan go way back in the way back machine, and as they we chatting he asked what she was doing there. After we told him, he so kindly invited me to be on his show the next day. As I had a previous commitment the next morning in Toledo, I had to decline, but he offered to have me on as soon as possible. Stay tuned.

After Mr. Rivera left, our brilliant WABC engineer Matt Dahl was ready and after a quick mic check Susan got to work. Talk about flawless; her voice is so smooth. She did the 30 second spot three times, perfect each time. And we are done.

Total work time: two minutes. Return on equity for those two minutes: hundreds more homeless veterans and veteran families with children will be able to replace concrete with a pillow under their head.

Susan then expressed a desire to give us even more of her equity and help us any way she can, so we then spent some time talking about a few different areas of future engagement. We exchanged contact for follow up and, as we were leaving to go to our respective cars, hers for the ride home, mine back to the airport, she kept stopping at every point to give me more names of people she wanted me to call on her behalf.

Most of the time people just look at celebrities and buy the brand without ever even looking at the brand owner – that is the very real human being who created this brand and works very hard like everyone else to be good at their craft, find the right work, and then enjoy the fruits of that labor. We all have this brand, like commerce; some are just larger than others.

And what truly defines us as humans is not what we have, but what we do with our brand and our fruits. In 25 years of advocacy, I have so often seen those who have the least give most, and those who have the most give nothing.

I also see many people today who reject the notion that we have an obligation to take care of those in need; that is until THEY become the one in need and then they get angry that more resources are not available to them. This is the selfish hypocrisy of our society today.

Then you have people like Susan Sarandon whose life work provides a balance to humanity, gives a voice to the voiceless, and who gives hope to those who feel hopeless.

Thank you Susan Sarandon, not only for helping Veterans Matter house more of our heroes, but for your lifetime of compassion, your lifetime of standing up and shouting for those with no voice.

Onward. Homeward.

 
Photo by Randy Robertson, CC via flickr

Photo by Randy Robertson, CC via flickr

Why Celebrities Leverage Their Influence to Help Us House More Veterans.

I told my 10 year-old not to write her name on the handle of her violin case, because the ink would quickly rub off due to friction and the oils in her hands. She still hesitated. When her not-yet-12 sister corroborated my statement with her less scientific opinion, that closed the deal. How can my nearly 40 years of experience compete with the idolization of an older sister?

It may seem shallow, at first glance, to allow ourselves to be influenced by idols or celebrities, however you define those words. But, as in the case of my two stepdaughters, they are closely connected. They are peers. They share a history full of emotion and memories. They have a bond that I, despite my best intentions, cannot equal. My youngest’s idolization of her sister means my almost 12 stepdaughter’s words and actions have a unique authority.

And so, in some ways, it is the case with famous people. Their words, their actions, their support or endorsement has a unique authority with their fans – people who have connected with them emotionally through their art. Whether because of a poignant scene from the screen or lyrics that become embedded in a memory, fans find themselves identifying with their idols. When that idol says this or that cause is significant, their fans pay attention. A voice they decided they trust carries weight with them.

What’s more, every single one of the artists who’ve lent their voice to the cause cares deeply. Out of all the hundreds of requests they get for their time, getting the word out about housing our veterans was one of the few they chose to give their attention to. We feel that makes their message even more compelling.

At Veterans Matter, we understand the power of connection. We know that when we tell you that our veterans are dying on the streets, you care. But we have observed repeatedly that when a musician or actor asks their fans to respond, even more people care. We enlist the help of celebrities because they are in a unique position to help us accomplish our mission: To house as many veterans as possible, as fast as possible.

Here are a few examples:

  • When Katy Perry donated VIP party pack tickets & backstage passes, 22 more vets were housed. What’s more, a new region opened up that has the potential to house over 165 more veterans.
  • When Kid Rock posted about us on his Facebook page, enough donations to house two more veteran families in his home state of Michigan poured in.

 

As we gear up for another campaign this Veteran’s Day, aiming to reach even more people with PSA’s voiced by our celebrity supporters, we look forward to housing more of our heroes by leveraging the spotlight all of our friends and supporters give to us!

 

samsimon“When people make donations to nonprofits, they want to know that their money goes to good use.” — Sam Simon

An article that’s gone viral recently caught the attention of our staff here at Veterans Matter. When Sam Simon, co-producer and developer of The Simpsons, was diagnosed with colon cancer, he decided to donate his remaining fortune to charities. Simon left production of The Simpsons in 1993, but retained an executive producer title, accruing him a lot of money in royalties every year after. He began the Sam Simon Foundation, which takes stray and rescue dogs that might otherwise be euthanized and trains them to become service animals. Simon devoted himself to a life of philanthropy, exclusively with organizations that saw immediate, visible results in their fundraising.

Veterans Matter was started because founder Ken Leslie saw a widespread problem with a simple solution. He saw a gap where funds could be allocated to produce those immediate results. By working directly with HUD-VASH, Veterans Matter has been able to direct money straight to homeless veterans who are waiting to get into their voucher-assisted housing. There are a large number of these vouchers handed out to homeless vets in each state, but HUD-VASH doesn’t provide the initial funds for a rental deposit, leaving a lot of housing-qualified vets on the streets. Much like Sam Simon, Veterans Matter works only to produce immediate, visible results. Our priority is efficiency and transparency: 100% of each dollar you donate goes toward the program.

VM operates with efficiency and urgency, and our fast-acting model is attracting the attention and support of celebrities such as Ice-T, Stevie Nicks, John Mellencamp, and Katy Perry. Fueled by the influence of our celebrity supporters, our donors have raised enough funds for us to house over 400 veterans.

Every time YOU donate, a vet on the street is one step closer to regaining domestic autonomy. If we all pitch in $5 right now, we could house every vet in America. That’s action with immediate results. That’s the power of Veterans Matter.

 
Winner Scott Vaughn (left) with star Katy Perry and Veterans Matter founder Ken Leslie backstage in Cleveland.

Winner Scott Vaughn (left) with star Katy Perry and Veterans Matter founder Ken Leslie backstage in Cleveland.

How Katy Perry Housed 22 Homeless Veterans & Sparked Operation Mid-Atlantic

Those who have been with us throughout the years know we are huge on giving credit where credit is due. This is the story of how Harry Sandler inspired Katy Perry, who inspired Scott Vaughn, who has now started Operation Mid-Atlantic with the goal of raising a million dollars to house 1200 homeless veterans.

Harry Sandler has been a pal of 1Matters for about 5 years. We met him when we recorded the 1Matters and World Homelessness Day videos with John Mellencamp. John had talked Harry out of his 3rd or 4th retirement to again manage his tour, which he had done for four decades.

In addition to being the tour manager for every big name you can think of, Harry also happens to be a brilliant, I believe genius level, photographer. On his travels to places we will never visit, he catches these incredible landscapes, which magically create an emotional response to the images.

As he was retiring after that tour he offered to have a gallery showing of his work in Toledo, with proceeds benefiting 1Matters. The events were huge successes, but more importantly a strong friendship was forged between Harry and all of the 1Matters team.

Our third annual Toledo exhibit was cancelled when he was again called out of retirement to be Katy Perry’s tour manager for the Prismatic World Tour.

Even though Katy is not doing ticketed public meet and greets on this tour, through the power of Harry and Katy’s compassion for our veterans, Harry was able to get a meet and greet for Veterans Matter to auction. The winner would be the superstar’s VIP guest, able to enjoy her show and to also meet with her backstage.

The winner was Scott Vaughn, a partner at Ernst and Young, in the DC area. He was a fan of Katy’s, and an even bigger fan of our veterans. He had an incredible day in Cleveland on August 14th, and he and I went to the pre-show VIP party, wandered around backstage, enjoyed exceptional seats, and of course, were enthused with meeting Katy herself.

The meeting was in a room adjacent to the stage. She bounded in dressed in a pepperoni “onesie” with her hair in a tight bun, ready to hit wardrobe for the finishing touches before she hit the stage. She spent about twenty minutes there, and during her time with us she was kind, engaging, and funny.

It happened that, on the day before, August 13th, we received a call from the VA in Austin, Texas; they requested deposits for 17 unhoused veterans for a special site project. Katy and Scott’s donation went to cover those 17 veterans, and five more in Michigan.

When we told her 22 veterans had been housed because she cared, she was grateful to Scott. “Thank you so much for helping Veterans Matter, it is so important that we help those who fought for our freedom,” she told him.

As we walked back to our seats after the meeting, Scott said he wanted to start a Mid-Atlantic chapter of Veterans Matter and help as many veterans as he could. Coincidently, I had been booked to give the keynote address at the Project Management Institute dinner in Washington, DC the following Tuesday, so we decided to meet for breakfast the morning after the speech. But for tonight, we enjoyed the show.

If you have never been to a Katy Perry show, you have to go some time. It is one of the most advanced technological extravaganzas ever staged. Yet, despite the mammoth size of the show, the magic of Katy Perry was clearly evident. She is able to do what few performers have done in a show of that size – perform it as if it were personally TO each and every one of the 20,000 or so fans in attendance, 1 at a time.

Between songs she would have these soft moments just between her and you, the audience, and talk about some things you might be struggling with. Each solution seemed to point to the same thing: Be yourself, love all, and fly.

The following Tuesday I flew down to give my talk to PMI in DC. Even before I took the stage I liked this group. You know how on any kind of “go help someone days” companies go rake leaves to help people? Not these guys; they want to have a permanent impact. What they are going to do is pick 200 non-profits and then project managers of PMI will help the non-profit execute a project that the non-profit actually needs. How cool is that?! I want to work with them to help expand to other communities where they have chapters.

At the end of my talk I told the 300 people there about the cool string of events above and how we were starting the Operation Mid-Atlantic chapter of Veterans Matter. I invited anyone interested in helping to join us for breakfast in the hotel at 6:30 the next morning. Five came and three emailed their regrets but committed to participate.

Operation Mid-Atlantic set a one million dollar goal; enough to help at least 1200 veterans in the region get housed. I think they will do it. They have these incredible project managers at PMI, led by a man who was inspired to start the chapter because of the momentum created by the compassion of Harry Sandler and Katy Perry to just matter to our American heroes on the streets. Veterans Matter: We take care of our own.

 
Shawn Dowling getting 42 cases of water from Enpuzzlement to give to our invalid and shut in veterans. All who now have homes because you supported Veterans Matter. Thank you Michelle Smith Marks and Roy Badenhop for making this possible.

Shawn Dowling getting 42 cases of water from Enpuzzlement to give to our invalid and shut in veterans. All who now have homes because you supported Veterans Matter. Thank you Michelle Smith Marks and Roy Badenhop for making this possible.

Toledo (what we call Operation Hometown, where we initially launched) was been under a water usage ban from 2 a.m. on Saturday, August 2nd through 9 a.m. Monday, August 4th. The ban meant no drinking water, due to algae blooms in Lake Erie letting off a toxin with severe consequences up to liver damage if consumed (and boiling is not an option) left over 400,000 residents in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan without safe water to drink or wash or cook with, and also with no idea on when the ban would be lifted. As you can imagine, that’s an emergency in 80+ degrees, and locations throughout the city ran out of bottled water very quickly, leaving those with limited means without consumable water.

Veterans Matter parent nonprofit, 1Matters, immediately leveraged their community network to arrange for emergency shipments and deployments of bottled water. Our friends made sure invalid and shut-in veterans received the hydration they need. We want to thank Enpuzzlement and Hope & Encouragement for Humanity (HEH) for their rapid response and generosity in aiding during the Toledo water crisis (or Aquapocalypse, if you’re given to melodrama). We also want to thank the many volunteers who helped load/unload semis and pallets of water at various shelters around the community, and in particular to Cherry Street Mission Ministries for stepping up to become a hub of distribution for the community.

We love you, Toledo. Your water may be green, but the hearts of so many of your citizens are pure gold.

 

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We’re excited to announce that Katy Perry has been added to our cohort of celebrity support of Veterans Matter! We’re auctioning off an exclusive meet and greet VIP concert package for two to the highest bidder through eBay Giving Works. The winner will receive two floor-level top priced tickets, tour merchandise, entry to the VIP preshow party, and more importantly, an exclusive meet and greet with Katy herself! Throughout her tour, she hasn’t offered public meet and greets – this is a Veterans Matter exclusive! Because veterans do matter, and we must take care of our own.

Katy Perry prioritizes giving back, supporting causes such as UNICEF, The Humane Society of the US, and Children’s Health Fund, among many others. We’re very grateful to have such an altruistic spirit supporting our fight to end veteran homelessness. Welcome to the VM Team, Katy, we’re lucky to have you!

To date, Veterans Matter has housed over 350 veterans throughout the United States, providing homeless vets and their families a second chance at domestic autonomy. Join us and Katy Perry in fighting for those who fought for us! We must take care of our own. 100% of the auction’s winning bid will go to house veterans.

This unique opportunity is both fundraiser and awareness campaign. Supporters of the fight to end homelessness for veterans are encouraged to share the social media graphics and links to the auction as well as use the #shine4vets hashtag in their postings. Extra efforts to promote the charity auction in the cities the package is available are appreciated.

For more information and a link to the auction, visit our dedicated page at veteransmatter.org/katy

 
Photo: Andrew Bardwell, CC license. https://flic.kr/p/8hbbe

Photo: Andrew Bardwell, CC license. https://flic.kr/p/8hbbe

I went to prison last week – for good cause.

I went to prison for the same reason I went to the White House two weeks before: to meet with people who are dedicated and WORKING, to help end veteran homelessness simply because veterans do matter.

The good cause was to thank the facility’s inmate veterans group for their help in housing our nation’s heroes who are still on the streets. These inmates are also heroes who fought for our freedom, but have now lost theirs.

The good cause was to receive a check for $252, which they wanted to donate to Veterans Matter. The money was raised at the Toledo Correctional Institution through a lasagna dinner fundraiser the inmates had just completed. It was a pretty nifty idea: prisoners who wanted to support the cause, or just have a taste of Italian cuisine for $8, could pre-order a huge helping of lasagna along with salad and garlic bread.

In meeting them I was moved by their humanity, their compassion, their dedication to those still on the streets. It again verified what I have seen time and time again on the streets: those who have the least, give the most. I have seen those with nothing give much. More than those with much, who give nothing.

The barbed wire reminded me this was not any group. They know where they are, they know it sucks, but they decided if they are going to be there, then dammit they want to do what they can to help others.

Though we have long been taught prison is filled with bad people, I did not feel that. I felt warmth and compassion. During my half hour talk, I felt a room full of people smiling, laughing at my jokes, moved like I am by the story of Jimmy, and equally committed AND WORKING to help veterans abandoned on the streets of our nation. They had lost their rights, but not their humanity and compassion – so said their actions, not just their words.

This group could have been any group I speak with; high schools, college classes, rotary clubs, church groups. It had all sorts of characters in all sorts of shapes, sizes and looks; from businessmen to tattooed canvases. The barbed wire reminded me this was not any group. They know where they are, they know it sucks, but they decided if they are going to be there, then dammit they want to do what they can to help others.

Speaking to them for a half hour, I did not feel I was surrounded by bad people. I felt that I was surrounded by two dozen people who had done bad things and got caught. I say “got caught” because the truth is, I could have been one of those sitting in that seat. As an addict and alcoholic, I did indeed do bad things. I just never got caught.

After my talk I stayed to chat with the group. I met the fellow who organized the fundraiser, a former marine and the head of the prison’s veteran group. He was almost in tears over the plight of our homeless veterans. Another man, who is part of the state-wide prison veteran group, along with a couple others who were brimming with pride, brought their dogs in to meet me. The dogs are part of the Puppies in Prison training program by Assistance Dogs of America, a program that takes in homeless dogs to have inmates train them to become assistance dogs. The handlers’ smiles went ear to ear with pride as they described their role in helping others.*

One of the very likable men I met turned out to have killed two people. In an instant he went from XXXX, the very nice man I met who cares so much about those veterans still on the streets, to the label of “murderer.” Same man, different lens.

And I got to know the men, their backgrounds. To one I asked what he will do when he gets out? He said he will be released in 2128.

Reality hits. This is where my internal conflict began. I had met these men just as men; men of compassion caring about and DOING something for homeless veterans. As I got to know them and their stories, hearing why they are there… being honest, it scared me. Not just their crimes, but how I started re-framing my image of them once I added my layer of “judgment” of their behavior.

One of the very likable men I met turned out to have killed two people. In an instant he went from XXXX, the very nice man I met who cares so much about those veterans still on the streets, to the label of “murderer.” Same man, different lens.

I have often said: “not our job to judge”. I believe all of the life manuals, the Bible, Koran, Torah, etc., all say the same thing: Love ALL, and down the road a piece, God will do some judging. Love all.

Admittedly, being next to a real live murderer at first scared me and evoked feelings of fear and loathing, evidenced by my slight lean back an inch. He saw it, of course. But I had met the man based on his compassion.

Working through it in my head and heart (it took conscience labor), I realized the truth is what he DID is not who he IS. To me, he is still the compassionate human being I met who, in an instant of rage years ago, ended the life of two people. He is now in this facility to pay the price for that instant, the rest of HIS life, times two. They own his life, but not his soul. His soul shines today; I saw it.

This speaks to the topic of redemption, which is another topic for another day.

For me, this visit caused a profound insight. I found when it comes to homeless veterans, there is no difference between the people I met at the White House and the people I met in prison. Both of these groups not only say “Veterans Matter”, they are doing something about it. But there IS a huge difference between the men I met in prison and many other Americans…

So often I hear “We are behind you all the way.” But they are way behind; in fact, on the sideline, just cheering.

The inmates at Toledo Correctional Institution and all the advocates and leaders at the White House are not behind the veterans who are abandoned on the streets. They stand WITH them, by action.

Veterans Matter. We [all] take care of our own.

Ken

*Prison rules dictate I not use the men’s names. But to the men I met, if you read this, and I hope you do, great work! Your compassion helps many veterans.