[Hpn] Stand Down suggests new life to homeless veterans;Billings, Montana;9/30/01
Morgan W. Brown
Mon, 01 Oct 2001 10:14:27 -0400
Sunday, September 30, 2001
Billings Gazette <<http://www.billingsgazette.com>
Local/State News section
Stand Down suggests new life to homeless veterans
By BECKY SHAY
Of The Gazette Staff
When Bob Chevalier came home from the Korean War, the military took care of
veterans with the GI Bill and on-the-job training programs. But it was
nearly 50 years later before he received help due to vets.
When Patrick Carey-Free came home from the Vietnam War, he was hardly
acknowledged as a veteran. But now, more than 30 years later, society is
beginning to help him.
Both veterans took part in Saturday’s Stand Down at North Park, which
provided aid to homeless veterans. Cheryl Heald said 56 veterans registered
to participate in the Stand Down. She is a service officer with the Montana
Veterans Affairs Office.
Checking out the Stand Down
Carey-Free has lived out of a pickup truck camper or trailer for years. A
self-described “Gypsy-type,” he said he’s always gone where his heart has
taken him. When he saw a sign at the Veterans Administration center about
the Stand Down, he decided to check it out.
“This is wonderful,” Carey-Free said. He came to the day-long event for a
haircut, but said he learned about services for veterans he didn’t know
existed, from housing to college opportunities. “The clothing really helps,”
Carey-Free said when he left for his tour in Vietnam, “I was just a kid, I
didn’t have no sense.” He was disappointed with the reception when came home
from Vietnam in 1968.
“People didn’t realize ... Maybe I felt I should be treated like a celebrity
— at least acknowledged and respected,” Carey-Free said. “I was 20 and at
home. I couldn’t go into a bar and drink. But I could go to Vietnam and lay
my life on the line.”
said it was different for veterans of his era.
“The government was good to us,” he said. “The military has always been good
Chevalier, who will be 70 in two weeks, was a bit of a star during the Stand
Down. A month ago he was a homeless veteran, sitting with an alms sign at
the corner of Grand Avenue and 24th Street West. That’s when he was spotted
by Cliff Goudelock, coordinator at the Veteran's Employment Training Center
on the MSU- Billings campus. Goudelock gave Chevalier a business card and
asked him to stop by some time.
A few weeks later, after a sleepless night at the Montana Rescue Mission,
Chevalier went to Goudelock. Within 72 hours Chevalier had a job and an
“I’ve worked all my life,” Chevalier said. “I’m a master machinist by trade,
but computers came along and they can do the work faster and better than I
Chevalier had been homeless and unemployed in Billings for about a year. He
was here in 1973, and “married a Billings girl, but she had a boyfriend,” he
said. When the marriage soured, Chevalier hit the road and ended up in
Chico, Calif., where “the same thing happened,” he said.
Next, he lived on the streets of Houston, Texas, and told people he was
going to come back to Montana to die.
A five-year struggle
“It took five years, but I made it here,” he said. “I got here with nothing,
stayed at the mission and was back on the street fixing my sign.”
Chevalier said he was “good and tired of that” lifestyle when he contacted
“People would drive by me and yell ‘Get a job!’” Chevalier said, his blue
eyes sparkling. “That used to irritate me. How the hell am I going to get a
job? I’m old enough to be their grandpa.”
Chevalier’s first words to Goudelock were “I want a job.”
Goudelock called Dan Hutchison, a local veterans employment representative
at the Montana Job Service. Hutchison said he “greased the skids” a little
and helped Chevalier get hired at McDonalds. Hutchison said he knew
Chevalier, a former Army medical technician, had been a cook in California
and figured he could flip a burger so he called Joe Skaggs, owner of the
McDonald’s at 30th Street West and Grand Avenue. Chevalier said he was
practically hired on the spot and praise from Skaggs keeps him motivated.
“I wish the younger kids had half the get up and go he does,” Skaggs said.
Vets’ unique qualities
Chevalier’s is the type of success story Polly La Tray hears bi-weekly. La
Tray is the state director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans
Employment and Training program. Montana was the first rural state to
receive one of the federal labor grants, she said. Homelessness is not at
the forefront in Montana, La Tray said. She said it’s treated more as if
people are just camping.
“First, people have to recognize the homeless problem,” she said. “Then
employers need to realize the unique qualities veterans bring to their
industries. They are dependable, responsible and on time and like to work.
They have lived in a structured environment (the military) a good portion of
Events like the Stand Down are a “hand up, not a hand out,” La Tray said.
“These people are America’s forgotten,” she said. “They really look at this
as a way to change their life and get back into America’s mainstream.”
In a way, that happened to Carey-Free on Saturday. Transformed with a new
hair cut and outfitted with a bag of new belongings including clothes and
shoes, Carey-Free said he’s thinking of giving up his traveling lifestyle.
And he’s ready to give back to others some of the acknowledgment he received
“I’m getting a little older now and think maybe it’s time to plant it,”
Carey-Free said. “By God, I’m going to do some volunteering my own self.”
Chevalier, who received his first paycheck last week, also wants to help
other vets. Any veteran could change his or her life, he said.
“The solution is not in a bottle of beer, or sitting around on your can
doing nothing,” Chevalier said. “Wasting time is the worst thing a homeless
person can do.”
Helping himself is exactly what Darrell Myers plans to do.
“I’ve never asked the VA for nothing, and it’s time,” he said.
He served in Vietnam from July 1970 until Feb. 19, 1972, his sister Robin’s
birthday. Myers came back to Billings in July, when his dad died, and is
staying here at his family home.
“I’m on the verge of being homeless and I’m not going to let it get that
far,” Myers said. “I’m basically disabled. But I’ll work if I have to. If it
takes my last breath.”
Myers echoed Chevalier in the need for people to do things for themselves.
“You have to pound the pavement,” Myers said. “No one is going to help you
unless you help yourself.”
In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, Myers, 49, said if he were
younger he’d “re-up” and fight the war on terrorism.
“It’s not going to be a conventional war like we fought in Vietnam,” Myers
said. “We’re all going to have to live with it. Our homeland has never been
invaded. When France and Britain did it, we were just 13 colonies. The
people of America don’t know the taste of freedom until they have been
Becky Shay can be reached at [(406)] 657-1231 [or Toll Free: 1-800-543-2505]
or at email@example.com
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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