Do you believe that the actions of a single individual can have an extraordinary and meaningful impact? In a year marked by horrific violence, racial tension, and a divisive presidential race, it can be hard to imagine that this is so. Our country’s problems can, at times, seem overwhelming and insurmountable.
Consider the issue of veteran homelessness — there are 50,000 people that have served our country, whose needs on even the most basic levels, are not being served in return. It’s a jarring statistic. It’s disturbing and more than a little uncomfortable given our country’s love affair with patriotism, and theintensity of our calls for the respect due our flag and our troops.
It is a statistic that does not stand well with Joe Leal. An Iraq combat veteran, he believes that the words “veteran” and “homeless” should never go together. Joe more than understands the struggle of the homeless — chunks of his youth were spent in a shelter with his family. He also understands the very real impact that a single person can have on another person’s life. A man overhearing a conversation between Joe and his father in a diner offered them a place to live, and his father a job. “That guy changed our life forever,” says Joe.
Now Joe is changing the lives of homeless veterans forever, with the grassroots movement the Vet Hunters Project. Joe conceived of the program as a way to “honor his fallen comrades by serving the living and leaving no veteran behind.” Manned by volunteers, Vet Hunters seeks out homeless veterans wherever they are on American streets, and brings them the services that they need. They don’t wait to be found or sought out by vets; they do the finding and the seeking. They connect people to the resources that are needed from food and shelter to job training and medical care. To date, Vet Hunters has placed and/or prevented the displacement of over 10,000 veterans.
But Joe Leal is very clear about one thing: The project won’t end until the issue of veteran homelessness does.