TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – 100,000 veterans sleep on the streets each night. It’s a problem across the United States and in the Wabash Valley. Reach Services is hosting their third annual Operation Vanguard event to bring awareness and raise money for local homeless veterans.
It’s a four-day event where participants experience a glimpse into homelessness. They can only eat the food that’s donated by community members. They sleep outside with minimal materials. News 10’s Kiley Thomas and Garrett Brown participated in the homelessness challenge themselves to see what it was like.
The welcoming streets of Terre Haute are home to 108,000 people. But for others, home is this bench, on this street.
“Things got rougher and we had nowhere to go,” said Josh Chiarizio.
Chiarizio served the country for seven years.
“It’s devastating to know that you have nowhere to live and you have a baby and a wife and you can’t support your family,” said Chiarizio. “It’s absolutely devastating.”
He endured several years separated from his family. He lived the reality of not knowing what the next day would bring.
“I really don’t know how I would describe it,” said Chiarizo.
An experience too difficult to put into words. But here at Operation Vanguard, it’s an experience they’re fighting to end. So News 10 joined the fight for one day to see what living homeless is like.
We spent a night in the 26-degree weather. We were only able to eat the food donated.
It was so cold we could see our breath. We probably only slept an hour or two.
“I don’t like getting up early but I couldn’t wait to get up because it was so cold. There was even ice in my tent,” said participant and United States veteran John Lombardo.
“That train went by about six times before I threw in some earplugs,” said Lombardo.
We could hear the train and all the cars passing by throughout the night. We even had a tent which most homeless veterans don’t.
“Even in a tent you don’t know how safe it is,” said Lombardo.
Sleep and safety. These basic needs don’t even compare to the seclusion Chiarizio faced as a homeless veteran.
“Being away from your family is probably one of the hardest things,” said Chiarizio.
“Homelessness is still here. This is our third year doing it and I’m still having to do it because it’s still a problem,” said Operation Vanguard coordinator Scott Wynn.
It’s a problem that inspired Wynn to help homeless veterans.
113 flags line the streets where we stood at 14th and Hulman Street. Each one represents a homeless veteran that’s been helped in the Wabash Valley. Events like Operation Vanguard allow Reach Services to expand their shelter, assisted living apartments and provide other needs for veterans.
Participants like myself spent the day collecting donations.
“I’m just trying to help my country,” said 15-year-old Preston Obergfell.
All to give back to those who sacrificed everything for the United States.
“You don’t leave a soldier behind. And every homeless veteran was a soldier,” said Lombardo.
For all these people, they’ll return back to their normal lives. But for many, this is their everyday.
We only experienced one night of it. Chiarizio remembers what it was like 365 days a year.
“I’m just glad to be out of them. I’m glad my family has a roof over their head and food on the table and I have a job,” said Chiarizio.
For 100,000 other veterans, they’re not out of it. This is still their reality.
“They fought for our freedom just like I did and they need to come in and they need a roof over their head,” said Chiarizo.
Operation Vanguard is going on through Monday until 4 p.m. outside of Reach Services at 14th and Hulman Streets. All donations go directly to housing homeless veterans and helping with their other needs. To donate to the cause, click here: https://fundrazr.com/WabashValleyVeteranServices?ref=sh_25u17f .
The Wabash Valley Veterans Services is a non-for-profit agency that relies on community donations to execute their services. Mainly, they work with homeless and at-risk veterans here in the Wabash Valley. Their services for veterans include but are not limited to:
- Emergency Homeless Shelter – (1) 1 bedroom efficiency apartment
- Low-Income housing – (10) 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, handicap accessible apartments
- Case management
- Guidance and assistance with the VA system
- Assistance with Acquisition of a Service dog for veterans with PTSD/I
- Information referral
- Financial Assistance
- Food and clothing assistance
- Weekly Peer Support Groups – “Vet to Vet” , “Veteran Only AA”