Homeless veterans take refuge at Arizona encampment

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MITCHELL RILEY: It’s a cool morning late October, people in these tents begin to rise. A passing train their wake up call. This is Camp Bravo. Next to Santa Rita Park on Tucson’s south side. A place where homeless vets and others can find comfort, food, and shelter. The camp is run by Veterans on Patrol, a program of Walking For the Forgotten Ministries. Leaders of this effort seek out homeless vets and offer safe haven, camaraderie, and a path to support services. Bravo is patrolled around the clock in shifts. Manny was on night watch.

This is Calamity. She came in during the night in need of help.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: I was 101st Airborne. I actually went in as a voice radio operator, but when they found out that I had some pretty extensive medical background, they made me an expert field medic. I jumped out of perfectly good aircraft with a medical bag and tried to attend to folks who needed help.

This is for your immune system. It has magnesium and seed coming out.

My name is Martin Marszalek. Everybody here calls me “Doc.” I am the Base Commander and Chief Medical Officer. I kind of keep things rolling along here.

This is vitamin C, keep you from catching cold.

Our mission is to go out and find as many homeless veterans that we can possibly locate and bring them in. Try to transition them from homelessness to housing, get them medical care, things that they’ve been doing without for so many years.

I’ll have to get the make and model of this thing, give the VA a call. Have them get you another mirror.

TAZE BEN-ATON: We have something here that I’ve never found anywhere else. We have a VA navigator. Somebody who knows the system, knows who to talk to, knows who to call if you don’t get what you need. And he does it for us and he’s just the best there is.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: I’ll call a couple of the mobility places here and see if we can get some spare parts for that one.

TAZE BEN-ATON: At least I can get around.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: Scramble eggs and bacon. They should be happy.

MITCHELL RILEY: Camp Bravo, officially known as Bravo Base, is one of several in Arizona including Camp Alpha in Phoenix, Charlie in Nogales, and Delta South of Prescott. The portable toilets are donated and maintained by Diggins Environmental Services. The land, Water, and electricity by HMS Fasteners. Both are local companies sympathetic to their cause. Food clothing and other supplies are donated by the public.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: We’ve got a lot of really good people out there that are helping us out and keeping us going here.

MITCHELL RILEY: There are around twenty residents on base. Mostly vets and a few civilians. Some move on and others take their place.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: You can’t turn them away. I can’t turn them away.

MITCHELL RILEY: Manny Jimenez is 66 years old and has been homeless for more than a year.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: Somebody needs to take a picture of that.

MITCHELL RILEY: He’s been here at Bravo for several months.

MANNY JIMENEZ: Four years on the USS Pawcatuck. An attack oiler. That’s a tanker with pom pom guns, great against jets. Three more years Merchant Marines. I’m an old merchant seaman drying up in Arizona.

MITCHELL RILEY: Three times a week Manny travels to a VA Hospital for treatment.

MANNY JIMENEZ: My liver and kidneys are not doing what they’re supposed to to. They hook up the dialysis to it and clean out my blood and return it to me and that’s about it. This I got infected, so I had to move it to that side.

MITCHELL RILEY: To live here there are 8 rules they must follow, including no drugs, no alcohol, and no smoking in tents.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: The third rule is residents need to help around the base on a daily basis.

MITCHELL RILEY: One way they’re helping is by maintaining nearby property. Here they remove trash and debris from a trackside ravine.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: I haven’t found any needless or anything yet so that’s a good thing.

They work to stay here, they all have various job tasks assigned to them.

MITCHELL RILEY: Through donations from the public, they have enough supplies to share with folks outside the camp, and they do everyday.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: Little snack food in there, some peanut butter, some ravioli, good stuff like that.

MAN: We love that stuff. Thank you.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: You’re very welcome. You guys take care out there. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.

Anybody that needs food can come here and get it. Right now we’re preparing roughly 200 food boxes a week.

That’s hot be careful. Thank you for bringing him over.

MITCHELL RILEY: What began with just a few tents more than a year ago has grown both in size and organization. Camp Bravo has become a refuge for many, but memories of life without shelter or protection are close.

MARTIN MARSZALEK: For me it was daily uncertainty. Not knowing where you’re going to get your next meal. Not knowing where you’re going to spend the night the next night. Where it’s gonna be safe. Not knowing if somebody is going to come up and plug you in the head while you’re sleeping and steal what little bit of belongings you have.

MANNY JIMENEZ: I had to eat out of dumpsters. I can’t talk about it.

TAZE BEN-ATON: The biggest challenge is the guy who yells get a job. The people who just don’t see you. You feel invisible, and that’s the most horrid thing in the world. Not to be recognized, not be acknowledged. People don’t want to see it. They want to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

This report originally appeared on Arizona Public Media’s website.

The post Homeless veterans take refuge at Arizona encampment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.