You are never too old to learn what you should have known all your life. My most recent educational experience came when I made what was supposed to be a simple trip to photograph the Nevada State Veterans Memorial near downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.
I got my first good look at the homeless problem of Las Vegas as I exited the I-15 Freeway at “D Street”. That is where I found the first block of homeless camps, and I soon realized this was just the beginning. I desperately wanted to park my car, grab my camera, and start shooting. Out of respect for the people huddled in the morning cold around their sidewalk-homes I just kept driving slowly through the camp and that was just the beginning. Because the visiting hours for the memorial are 08:00AM to 08:00PM I had time to cruise around the neighborhood. What I found was that every block in a neighborhood of at least a square mile had homeless camps that line most, if not all, of the length of the block. And, I knew that many of these people living on the streets are veterans of America’s military. I am at a loss for words to describe how I was feeling as I pulled into the Grant Sawyer State Office Building parking lot. But it was after I parked my car, grabbed my gear, and walked the 100 yards to the outside memorial that the emotions I was already feeling grabbed my heart in a chock hold that took me to my knees.
I received my (early out) military discharge from the U.S. Navy in December of 1971 after serving 3 years, 10 months and 22 days of what I had thought were the worst days of my life. It took the rest of my life to realize that what I had learned in those years is what had kept me alive all these years. As I slowly walked around the Nevada State Veterans Memorial I found it hard to click my camera shutter at times as each of the 18 statues seemed to call up memories of the men that I had served with and my hometown friends that had served and died in the same war that I had served through. The names and faces of men that I thought I hated being around in those days came flooding back into my mind, - and I missed them.
Two hours later I exited the memorial to drive home. Most of what I have been thinking since that day is the homeless population of Las Vegas and the veterans that I served with. And, now I just keep trying to figure a way that I can do more with what I have learned than post a blog and photos about my experience.
And, I just keep wondering, “What have we become? How can we, as Americans, let our people live the way these people are living?” We owe it to our homeless vets and all the homeless Americans to end their pain and plight.
When you are homeless you sleep where you can.