On Memorial Day, veterans reflect on their service, being homeless
At the Salvation Army William Booth Center, a gray brick building with wrought-iron gates perched on the lower edge of Seattle’s International District, homeless veterans have found the resources they need to survive: food, showers and a place to sleep at night.
The Center, which currently has 184 residents — many of whom are veterans — operates at about 97 percent occupancy at any given time according to Director Scott Moorhouse. Partnerships with the City of Seattle, King County and Washington state, along with organizations like Fare Start and the Veterans Affairs Hospital, have given the shelter the support it needs to provide necessities that would be difficult to find elsewhere.
These include case management, referral-based mental and medical healthcare, and help dealing with substance abuse, evictions and employment. But, above all, Moorhouse said that finding their clients a home is the primary goal.
“We’re doing everything we can to get them into permanent housing,” he says.
The Center’s Veteran Transition Program — the first of its kind in Seattle — has been placing individuals in long term housing at a 78 percent success rate for 19 years. Moorhouse said that most of the Center’s staff has been homeless or has served in the military — or both — at some point in their lives.
“We’re not here to get rich,” he explains. “This is a chance for many of us to help people going through the same things we did.”
Crosscut spent a recent afternoon interviewing and photographing some of the men in housing transition at the Center.
"I had decided at a relatively young age that I was going to be a dentist. My next door neighbor was a dentist. I didn't want to do what my dad did because I didn't really like math."
But Myers didn't go into dentistry; he became a machinist in the United States Navy. He served in the early 1980s on the crew of a flagship in its nuclear program. Upon returning to civilian life, he was forced to confront certain hardships, not just as a homeless person or a veteran, but as a Black man.
"Gentrification is something that's happening all over the United States. . . After World War II, low-interest FHA home loans that were available to Army and Navy veterans coming back from different theaters of war were not available to Black men and women, and so 'White flight' ensued and so did the onset of suburbia," Myers says. "Black people are on lockdown and they always have been."
Earl Warren spent a year living on the street before finding a room at the William Booth Center. He’s been living here for 10 months in the Veteran Transition Program. He was deployed as an engineer to Okinawa and Vietnam between 1963 and 1965.
Warren has been living in Seattle most of his life. Before coming to the William Booth Center, he lived on the streets.
"It's been great," he said, describing his experience so far in the Veteran Transition Program. "It's not home, you know, I don't want to be here forever. But thank god for everything. They've done a lot for me."
“If it wasn’t for this place, I really don’t know where I’d be,” says Carlos Espejel, a former shipyard worker who served in the Army from 1979 to 1987.
“Being on the streets or living in shelters, you have no structure. You got nobody really trying to guide you to say, hey, you have these benefits . . . At least here they explain it to you. At least here you’ve got some kind of structure. You’ve got showers. You’ve got a place to lay your head. You got people trying to help you, trying to get your things together, trying to get your life on the right track instead of living in chaos.”
Robert Pratt served in the Navy from 1960 to 1961. He was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia but traveled all over the world to places like the Mediterranean, Barcelona, Morocco, France and Germany. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pratt was aboard one of the ships used in a blockade to stop the Soviets from delivering missiles. It was his ship that fired a warning shot at an enemy ship.
Pratt said that, for him, Memorial Day is one of the most important days of the year.
“Memorial Day is for the veterans who fought in the wars and skirmishes…Kudos to the ones that made it home and I feel sorry for the ones that didn't. That's what Memorial Day means to me. It's about the people who gave their lives for this country so that people who live here have the freedom that we have right now. The freedom of speech. The freedom to do what we want without hurting anybody. Freedom to vote. Freedom to elect your officials to represent you in Congress.”
Pratt, who describes himself as a “young 75,” was approved for a housing voucher just moments before this interview was conducted. He’ll move into his own apartment in Bothell next weekend as a result.
Bob Kirkpatrick, a resident at the William Booth Center, joined the Army when he was 17 years old. He was deployed in central and northern Vietnam from 1967 to 1969 at the height of the war. He said he remembers more of it than he would prefer.
After the war ended, he says veterans like him received “very, very little support.”
“We veterans are having a rough time. We all need help.”
Ed Healey served in the Marine Corps from 1980 to 1983. The only reason he was living at the William Booth Center, he explains, was because of a job gone wrong. He couldn't make rent after he took his employer to court for withholding wages.
"Having to come here sucks. You should try it some time. You live with the scum of the earth. Mind you, I'm one of them, but . . . it is what you make of it, I guess."
He doesn’t expect any special treatment being a veteran.
"Find a job. Work. Take care of yourself. Everybody grows up, goes to school, gets a job, takes care of themselves as much as they can. Maybe their family helps them a little bit, who knows? But ultimately the responsibility is their own."
Philip Sorenson served in the Army from 1989 to 1994 during the invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. After serving, he became a Buddhist monk at a seminary in Tokyo, Japan.
In 1995, shortly after being discharged, Sorenson became homeless. He slept on the streets for nearly a year and a half before raising enough money to afford an apartment. More than a decade later he moved into the William Booth Center where he lived for a year before getting hired as a case management assistant. He’s been helping people find resources — food, showers, obtaining a driver’s license and so on — for the last seven years.
To him, Memorial Day is an opportunity to show gratitude for the sacrifices so many of his friends and family made while serving their country.
“I lost a lot of friends for different reasons. A few to suicide. A few to, you know, drug and alcohol abuse. The ones who died from suicide or drugs and alcohol hurt me more than the ones that died in combat. This sounds strange but, if you’re a solider, you die in combat. That’s kind of what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to come out of the military and not get any help. . .You’re supposed to get the help that you need.”
Larry Cruickshank has only been living at the William Booth Center for a week. He was transported here after his leg had to be amputated due to diabetes. After studying aerodynamics in college, he worked as a helicopter mechanic in the military for nine years.
"The people, both at the VA Hospital and the people here, they seem to really care about their jobs. They care about what they do,” Cruickshank said. “They actually care about what they're doing.”