Community//

Vulnerable Citizens in Communities Everywhere Suffer in Silence While We Are Distracted by Politics and Divisiveness…

This is a loving homeless family living in Newport, Oregon.. Lincoln County cares. My neighbors, your neighbors, maybe loved ones. We look out after our friends and neighbors who need it the most. We work hard to give them hope for a new day. This is a popular spot for safe gatherings in Newport, Oregon in […]

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This is a loving homeless family living in Newport, Oregon.. Lincoln County cares. My neighbors, your neighbors, maybe loved ones. We look out after our friends and neighbors who need it the most. We work hard to give them hope for a new day. This is a popular spot for safe gatherings in Newport, Oregon in Lincoln County on the Central Coast.

Imagine

How does the current, and very concerning political environment the past 4 years in America threaten public safety and health, especially the most vulnerable citizens?

What does this vitriol and anger say to you?

These questions can only be answered from your soul, your moral compass, and your faith…not politics. The answers come from building friendships and bonds with your community by caring about each other.

Imagine the millions of most vulnerable American citizens dying on the steets of communiies everywhere because they don’t have access to “whole patient” health care like most of us?

I can tell you with this story of love told as ‘fiction’ based on true events from my personal and professional experiences…

I know of a case of a homeless veteran in Lincoln County Oregon in 2018. I was knee deep in doing consulting work at the time for the larger community in Lincoln County Oregon

The story begins with a young Marine vet who served in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2002. This decent and patriotic man, named, Jake, served America in the early days of the Iraq invasion following 9/11.

Jake was a kid when when he experienced the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing of a federal building 25 years ago. From that moment on Jake wanted to serve America.

Jake dreamed being a US Marine, a warrior just like his Pop, a WWII hero who served in the Pacific for all of the war. He felt the passion and duty to protect his homeland and the free world. It was his time to serve, to step up, to join so many others who were disgusted and heartbroken from 9/11…

Military family legacy…

Jake’s father also served during Pearl Harbor, WWII, and Korean War. His pop was a highly decorated Master Chief Boatswain Mate (BMC) who was a hardened combat veteran, His father was also sick and his family was sick from all of the horrific truama. and for too long. Jake inhaled the pain from his profoundly dysfunctional childhood. But he became a strong warrior early in his life and learned how to survive and thrive.

Jake was injured physically and emotionally in Iraq right after the initial invasion while clearing the way for the American occupation. He experienced what most combat vets didn’t know or understand much about back then, let alone “Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).”

Jake returns home to Oklahoma City in 2004…

Jake, a US Marine hero, returned home to Oklahoma City with little or no ‘warm handoff’ when transitioned out of the Marines. You know, “go in peace young man, you served your country with pride, we got your 6, get married, start a family.” It never worked out that way for Jake. His experience after returning home had no resembance to what he thought. No heroes welcome or a support group that seemed impossible for him to sort out anywary. TBI symptoms and PTSD was a dangerous mix as we all know well now in 2020. The VA health care system was just beginning to research TBI back then.

Help eluded Jake. He couldn’t comprehend on how to navigate the complicated VA health care system. Jake felt no one understood or show empathy for the constant pain and distress he was feeling, with little or no sleep, nightmares, guilt, never ending stuff. His family didn’t know what to do either,.

His father, mother, siblings and friends seemed to distance themselves. He did like to hang out in the old town with other homeless vets he could talk to and get high. Jake was around friends who loved him for who he was., brothers in arms. Friends who asked him what happened, not what is wrong. They told the stories of warriors and of healing, comraderie, and trust. And the love of brothers protecting each other. “I got your, six, bro!” Jake loved to play his mandolin and sing while hanging out with other homeless vets. His battle buddies sang with him and danced on the street.

Jake knew he was getting sicker. He blamed himself for this too. But he dreamed of better days. Jake wanted to move on. It was now or never, he thought.

Looking west for a new start…

Jake felt alone in Oklahome City. It didn’t feel like home anymore. His behavior was irractic and unstable. His family and friends appeared distant and didn’t want to be close to hime. Jake had a hard time articulating how he felt. He was disowned and left homeless on the streets the city he used to call home. So, Jake set out on the road for a new start, and hope for the future. Jake was a Marine, a warrior who served his nation. He never give up.

He stopped along the way in towns that touched his soul, tugged his heart. Jake was a survivor, a warrior. He dreamed of finding a community where people cared about each other, no matter what, or who you are. He wanted to be loved. He wanted a chance to get better and get to work. Maybe meet the right person and and start family, a dog and cat too.

Lincoln County Oregon 2017...

Jake, landed in Lincoln County Oregon a few years later after thumbing rides across America from Oklahoma City for what seemed like a never ending journey. He struggled to build a life until he ended his journey on the Oregon coast, like so many veterans who discovery the clean air and the beauty of this stunning coastal place he could only dream about before. He loved it from the very first moment walking along Nye Beach, in Newport, Oregon. He felt the souls of kindred spirits just like him. He didn’t feel alone anymore.

Jake’s health kept getting worse over time. He couldn’t get off drugs and alcohol. He loved his new home in Lincoln County. Jake found the home he dreamed of for so long. Newport, Oregon was a community that cared about all of us not just some of us. He was hugged, loved, and cared for as best as our community could provide with stretched resources. Jake tried hard… But his mind and body could not hold up anymore.

Jake was so sick, he was taken to the hospital emergency room more than 40 times during a 12 month period. Jake had VA benefits and a monthly stipend. But he wanted to live on the streets. He never became comfortable with treatment and recovery programs like some other friends he knew.

We find ourselves as a community of care givers helpless in the end when our citizens who suffer the most don’t make it. It’s a choice that some who suffer with TBI, PTSD, substance abuse, depression, severe anxiety, and worst case psychotic episodes, are unable to function on their own.

It’s still our duty to take care of the most vulnerable among us no matter what. We try to save lives everyday, but sometimes fail, but not in our hearts and souls. We keep trying and never give up. Just like Jake, we are warriors too.

Jake knew the community he called home loved him anyway. Hanging out on the street and the beach, close to community based peer support, shelter from the cold, and food when he was hungry got him through most days. Jake was loved and hugged, kept safe as possible.

A life cut short…

Jake, was an American hero, the son of a WWI hero, a father, a brother, a dear friend, a forgotten Marine warrior, who served America with pride and honor, and was awarded a Purple Heart. Jake, tragically, couldn’t get a decent continuum of care soon enough to save himself.

America failed Jake and his family. Jake was alone as a veteran then, and he is not alone in 2020. A patriot until the end, Jake was found one morning dead in the north end of the parking lot at PJ’s, the popular grocery store on the corner of 101`and hwy 20 where he came into town from a journey across America’s southwest. PJ’s welcomed the homeless, donating food and bottled water. Newport, Oregon was Jake’s America. Lincoln County is my America!

This heart breaking story happens all too often in America everywhere, in all 3000 counties across America. We can do better. We live with too many suicides because of the lack of access to health care services for the most vulnerable. Sadly, we know also that each day 22 veterans complete suicide. Communities everywhere are measured on how well we serve the most vulnerable members of our community. Sometimes we fall down on the job and it hurts. It hurts all of us… It hurts the hearts and souls of America.

I know my friends and colleagues feel the same way in Lincoln County Oregon as I do. How we take care of the most vulnerable citizens in our communities is a reflection of who we are as Americans… Good and decent souls with empathy, compassion, humanity and humility. We wouldn’t have it any other way, not ever…

This is my America! That’s why we love living in Lincoln County Oregon! My family’s home for 15 years now.

Lincoln County is not distracted from what is at the heart and soul of our community and America. I’m confident all 3000 counties in America aren’t distracted either.

Steve Sparks, US Navy vet, Author, Blogger; Member, Lincoln County Oregon, Mental Health Advisory Committee; Member, Trauma Informed Oregon (TIO) Steering Committee
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