A U.S. non-profit group has marked Veterans Day by bringing acting and retired military officers to a Washington, D.C. church to prepare meals for the homeless, many of whom are fellow veterans.
Seven veterans were among a group of 20 volunteers who gathered at 6:00 a.m. on Monday in the capital's Foggy Bottom neighborhood to serve breakfast to more than 100 people.
Acting Coast Guard officer Clint Trocchio said he feels obligated to help.
"Like many other vets, we come in today to give back to some of the other veterans who are suffering from chronic homelessness here in Washington, D.C.," Trocchio said.
Non-profit group Miriam's Kitchen
has been setting up meals for Washington's homeless for 30 years.
Operating out of the Western Presbyterian Church, it provides services to thousands of homeless people.
On a mission
Former Air Force pilot Hugo Schmidt also volunteered at the kitchen to honor fellow vets who lost their homes.
"I'm hoping that it will convince them there are people who care - about them. I'd just like them to know that somebody is considering their well-being," said Schmidt.
Just before the meal service began, Miriam's Kitchen chef Steve Badt rallied his troops.
"We have a great meal today," Badt told the volunteers. "Remember, our goal here is to end chronic homelessness. So thank you very much for coming."
The menu included buttermilk pancakes with a side of fresh berry sauce, eggs with cream cheese, salmon and onions, and green salad donated by local farmers markets.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness
says veterans make up about 10 percent of the homeless population in the United States.
The Obama administration says there were 62,000 homeless veterans in the country when it last conducted a survey, in January 2012. It says that figure represented a 17 percent decline since 2009.
Miriam's Kitchen says homeless veterans tend to be on the streets longer than other homeless people, and often struggle with disabilities like mental illness.
"Sometimes it's easy for them to fall through the cracks," said Badt. "And that's where Miriam's steps in. Miriam's is a home for so many homeless, vets included. It's a temporary home, and our goal is to try to give them a permanent home. It's a place where they can have dignity; it's a place where they can feel like they belong to a community."
One homeless veteran who said he benefited from that community is Jeff Gilliam of Los Angeles.
"I've been with Miriam's for a couple of years, and I've come a long way from being homeless now to getting my place in the next several weeks. None of it could have happened without the staff here," Gilliam said.
The Navy veteran said drug and alcohol abuse contributed to the loss of his original home. Now he is clean and sober, thanks to Miriam’s and counseling services provided by the federal government.
"The help is out there. It is there, and you have to be proactive, and that's where I'm coming from, more so than just resting on my laurels, so to speak," said Gilliam.
President Barack Obama has set a goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015. He hopes to achieve this through offering veterans a combination of services, including health care, housing assistance, job training and education.
Advocates say giving homeless people a positive start to the day with a healthy breakfast improves their prospects of eventually living independently. They say that will reduce the cost of homelessness to society as a whole.