Former Army sergeant Arnold Bradley has been living in an unheated GMC van since he was laid off from an automotive parts company four months ago.
Every night, he finds a street that seems safe and settles down in his van, which is filled with his clothes and household items.
On Saturday, the 49-year-old veteran broke down and cried as he stood in the Prince George’s County Sports and Learning Complex surrounded by people who were there to help him and other homeless people. He held a gray sweatshirt that said “Army.”
“I feel like I am part of something again,” said Bradley, who heard about Veterans Stand Down and Homeless Resource Day on his car radio. “I got here at 8:30. I just wish that other veterans knew about this.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), state Veterans Affairs Secretary Edward Chow Jr. and a host of state, county and veterans service providers took part in the event, which turned the Landover complex’s indoor track into a mini-mall of benevolence.
Officials were on hand to connect veterans and others in need with legal aid, health screening, mental health counseling, and even a hair cut and shower. But the hottest spot was the area with boxes of free sweatsuits, socks and winter clothing.
“We are here to honor real heroes in Prince George’s County and provide the services that they need,” Baker said.
Volunteers outnumbered people in need at the event, and Bradley said one reason was that when a person is homeless, “the goal is to blend in.”
“The biggest challenge is maintaining dignity,” said Darilyn Wade, a former Army sergeant. He is unemployed and living in transitional housing.
In 2009, on any given night, about 75,609 veterans nationwide were homeless, according to the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs.
Bradley said his strategy for surviving is: “Keep moving, don’t stay in one spot, try to blend in.” With winter coming, he said, getting a green military duffel bag filled with winter clothes was important, but not enough.
“Could you tell more about the jobs that are available?” Bradley asked Gloria L. Brown, director of the county Department of Social Services. She directed him to tables staffed by people who could help him find leads on jobs.
Ginger Miller, a former Navy boatswain’s mate who landed in a homeless shelter in the 1990s, was among those there to help. She founded a nonprofit organization called John 14:2 to help homeless veterans, and her mission comes right out of the Bible: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.”