By Stan Levin / San Diego Veterans for Peace
The San Diego Chapter Veterans for Peace (SDVFP) has for the past several years been actively engaged in our signature charity the “Compassion Campaign.”
Some members had gotten together in 2010, before I became a member, and discussed the problem of homelessness in San Diego and what we might be able to do to help veterans who because of a variety of circumstances find themselves living on the street.
Out of this initial meeting and conversation was born our aggressive ongoing activity to try to improve the lives of those unfortunate people in some significant way. One member of SDVFP who had been homeless himself was asked what people on the street needed most. “Sleeping bags” was his response.
Those original members set a goal of raising $3000 which would buy 100 sleeping bags sets locally at BIG5 Sporting Goods. Prior to this time a few sleeping bags and other survival items had been purchased by members and distributed to homeless veterans. The Compassion Campaign was an outgrowth of these early efforts.
Donations took off and continue. After purchasing several hundred bags locally, BIG5 suggested that SDVFP contact the Coleman Company, maker of the bags, as SDVFP was stripping the BIG5 shelves. Coleman agreed to generously provide us with fine sleeping bags at near their cost and they have covered shipping and all sales tax as well. We are of course very grateful for their help.
With funds derived only from donations and zero administrative expenses, SDVFP has now been privileged to provide over 2400 sleeping bag sets in San Diego, one at a time, late at night. The original concept of helping homeless veterans in this way was abandoned in favor of helping any street people. Homeless, after all, is homeless.
I have been asked to document one of my recent experiences … not unlike the similar experiences of many of my chapter brothers who have immersed themselves in this endeavor.
in addition to our work on the street, some members, including me, take a small number of sleeping bags from our chapter’s stock to keep in our cars in the event we come across a homeless person in our daylight travels. That is something that happens all of the time. I will add a personal note—when this program gets internalized and part of who you think you are, it feels terrible to be caught out there needing a bag for somebody and not having one at hand.
I have been asked to document one of my recent experiences. It was not unlike the similar experiences of many of my chapter brothers who have immersed themselves in this endeavor.
The other day I came across a street person who was sitting on a curb near a local church. He was busy crushing aluminum cans (to sell of course) … and he was one of the most ragged people I had seen. Everything he was wearing was almost in shreds. I should add at this point that the weather here in sunny San Diego has lately been cold and wet. Winter is here.
I stopped the car next to him, rolled down the window, and asked him how he was doing, my usual opening. (Typical answer – I’m OK.) I asked him if he could use a pair of socks (always stocked in my car) and the expected answer as almost always was yes. I gave him new socks. This is my way of breaking the ice with homeless people. They are often suspicious and frightened by the encounter.
I asked him where he was sleeping these days and his answer (also common) was “down in the canyon over there. ” I asked him what he was sleeping on and his answer (also common) “I have a blanket.” I asked him if he had a sleeping bag. He answered in the negative. He was satisfactorily vetted at that point and I offered him a sleeping bag. He was overcome. He cried, he blessed me and thanked me up one side and down the other. I have long since stopped being embarrassed by this kind of reaction– it is most typical.
And that is why we do what we do.