This afternoon the Portland City Council will consider a resolution (put forward by all five members of the Council) welcoming home veterans from the Iraq War and offering support for all those having difficulty reintegrating after deployments. I have been asked to give testimony at the hearing. Below are my prepared remarks:
Testimony from The Rev. Chuck Currie
Before Portland City Council In Support Of Returning American Veterans
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Members of the Council:
My name is Rev. Chuck Currie. I currently serve as the interim minister of Parkrose Community United Church of Christ and live in Portland’s Grant Park neighborhood.
Today I am here to offer support for the resolution before council welcoming back returning veterans from the Iraq War.
Twenty-one years I began working at a shelter in Portland called Baloney Joe’s. Each day we served hundreds of individuals suffering from acute mental illness, people who had lost their jobs because of the declining timber industry, those battling alcohol and drug addictions, and veterans who severed our nation in the Armed Forces only to be abandoned to the streets.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports:
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homelessness -- extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care -- a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
No one should be homeless in the richest nation on earth. But Americans have a special burden to ensure that those who have served the nation are not left without services and support. Tragically, after the Vietnam War our veterans were simply cut loose and many ended up in shelters like Baloney Joe’s. Our shelter, which received only limited government support, operated counseling programs, a medical center, a jobs program, and SRO housing centers in Old Town. We were so unpopular in serving this population that Mayor Frank Ivancie once famously said in the early 80s he’d rather wed his garden then visit Baloney Joe’s. As many as one-third of the people we served were Vietnam veterans.
You would have thought a lesson had been learned by the way Vietnam veterans had been treated but already veterans from Iraq are ending up in shelters and we have seen the shameful way veterans in medical facilities like Walter Reed have been treated. “While an estimated 500,000 veterans were homeless at some time during 2004, the VA had the resources to tend to only 100,000 of them,” reported The Christian Science Monitor in a 2005 article chronicling the increase of veterans from Iraq seeking emergency shelter.
The General Assembly of the National Council of Churches adopted a statement last year that read it part:
We urge our government to give meaningful support to U.S. troops. This meaningful support includes: bringing active and reserve forces home from this war; providing soldiers still in harm's way with adequate armor to protect them from gunfire and explosive devices; giving earned benefits to veterans, especially injured veterans, of this war in which they have valiantly served; and honoring the sacrifice made by those who have died in this war by making adequate provision for surviving family members and creating a withdrawal plan that brings such sacrifices to an end.
War is contrary to the will of God and we are called to be peacemakers. We are also called to be a compassionate people concerned with the “least of these” in society. I urge all Portlanders to do everything in our power to avoid the mistakes of the Vietnam era and to welcome home our veterans with open arms.