As a disabled, homeless veteran, Joe Bailey’s path to graduating from Mt. Hood is an “uphill battle,” he said.
When his insomnia finally subsides, he sleeps in the icy air of a 40-year-old RV with nothing but his service dogs, a dog bed, a few sleeping bags, and a small space heater. As the winds shake the RV and his mind runs, he is always on alert. Between post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and mood swings, his rest is often restless.
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, but I’m tired,” said Bailey.
As one of 466 homeless veterans described in Multnomah County’s 2017 Point-In-Time survey, Bailey said that no veteran should have to be homeless.
“I’m trying to give a voice to the voiceless, not only homeless vets, but all homeless,” said Bailey. “Why hasn’t the college addressed or remedied it?”
Only 5 percent of the entire county’s population are military veterans, yet they make up 11 percent of the homeless population.
There are some individuals who choose to be independent and become homeless. But Bailey’s own housing situation spiraled out of his control.
Two years ago, his father’s health started to deteriorate, so Bailey quit his job and cared for him full-time. Last February, when his father died, he not only lost his dad, but also a home and a steady income. Unlike many of us who have a warm home to come back to after a long day, he retires to a cold, unwelcoming place to sleep.
Bailey has one sister in Chicago he calls when he is desperate for someone to talk to, but it’s not the same as a personal, up-close relationship. The closest thing to companionship Bailey has are his two service dogs, Remington and Bonny.
In addition to being tired and lonely, he has the stress of maintaining his GPA to keep his scholarships and receive an associate degree in general studies, with an emphasis on history. Bailey said it’s hard enough to stay awake in class, much less do all of his work. With needs pulling him in every direction and his lone computer power source at school, his time to complete assignments is limited.
Bailey wishes there was more support for veterans, overall. When individuals volunteer for the military, he said, it is like they are no longer citizens, but government property. Even after being discharged, they hold onto a veteran identity instead of a citizen. He said he doesn’t consider himself superior, but thinks that the government should offer more support for troops.
Resources such as food pantries and hotlines such as 211 are good, but are only a Band-Aid for the underlying issue of homelessness, he said. Veterans are getting trickles of support, but there needs to be short term and long term support.
Bailey said it’s just like the quote from the movie “Braveheart”: “You’re too busy squabbling for the scraps from Longshank’s table, that you missed your God-given right to something better.”