Each of the rooms on the veterans floor at River of Life shelter is named for servicemen and women with ties to Idaho: Vernon Baker, Brandon Titus, Pappy Boyington. The entire floor is named in memory of Idaho Medal of Honor recipient Ed Too Tall Freeman.
Army veteran Tommy Head lives in a room named for Carrie French, the first Idaho woman to die in combat in Iraq.
Head is living there through the Boise Rescue Missions Veterans Ministry Program. For the past two years, the program has provided case managers to help homeless veterans work through substance abuse, health, financial or other issues. It includes the guidance of a chaplain and a private bedroom.
Thats important when people are rebuilding their lives, said program director Ed Cowley.
The small program is financed by donations from the public. And at Christmas, its participants are not forgotten by their fellow veterans across town at the Idaho State Veterans Home, who make sure there are presents under the tree.
Head, 52, uses a walker to get around. He ended up at the shelter after a series of bad events. His wife died in March in an accident caused by a drunken driver in Alabama. Head came West.
I needed a new start and I just left, he said.
He had a lead on a job installing fiber-optic cable, but a combination of chronic foot trouble, medications and depression landed him in the hospital. His money soon ran out. He was in a strange city with no ties. Seeking shelter at the mission was his only choice.
He put in his time answering phones at the front desk. He helped install a new floor work for which he was recognized at a recent lunch. A space for him finally opened up in the missions veterans program. Counselors got him signed up for medical benefits.
Like a lot of veterans, Tommy didnt realize he had benefits coming to him, said Cowley. Thats a lot of the work we do here, just sorting those things out.
Head got the foot surgery he needed, and he has a room among friends where hes able to do his woodworking.
Hell be out of his cast and back on his feet in December, and mission staffers are confident that hell find work.
Ive never known a town that would open its arms to me like this, said Head.
A RECORD OF SUCCESS
The Rev. Bill Roscoe, director of the mission, estimates that a quarter of the residents at its shelters in Boise and Nampa are veterans.
The Veterans Ministry Program, which works closely with the Boise Veterans Affairs office, has room for up to 19 qualified veterans at a time. There is a waiting list.
But those who do get in have a good chance for success. Cowley keeps in touch with veterans who leave the program. Of the 57 who have completed it, 56 are living in their own homes, working and paying taxes, said Cowley. One participant died.
TIES BETWEEN VETERANS
The Idaho State Veterans Home starts getting calls in October from people who want to help its 166 residents over the holidays, said Phil Hawkins, volunteer coordinator.
People are quick to offer up everything from coats and cigarettes to meals at Sizzler.
The veterans there appreciate the generosity, Hawkins said, especially those who have lost touch with their families or lived a long time on their own before moving into the home.
All of a sudden people (are) caring for them, said Hawkins. They have three (meals) and a cot and the friendship of other veterans.
For the past two years, Hawkins has been able to spread that generosity to veterans outside the home. Through the network of veterans home supporters, he collects Christmas gifts for the Boise Rescue Missions program.
Theres just this spirit of generosity among veterans, he said. We see the mission as an extension of the home.
Most of the time, Hawkins never meets the veterans at the River of Life. It doesnt matter to him.
If I had my way there would be no homeless veterans anywhere, and no one in need, Hawkins said.
Anna Webb: 377-6431