The sight of children bringing pennies, dimes and nickels from their piggy banks to put in the donation kettles this last Sunday was so touching. It was a powerful experience. Then there was the gentleman who was obviously homeless, who walked up dropped dollar into the kettle and said, "You need to be here every day." He repeated it adding, "I really mean it!" He went into the store and returned a few minutes letter with a cold bottle of water. That was the sweetest water I have ever had. Then, a few minuets later a lady came up to ask what was the cause for which we were taking donations? When I explained we are in the process of purchasing a property which will be renovated to house up to 15 homeless veterans as an assisted living facility her head jerked. She said the veterans here in New Mexico need your help. She went on to say she volunteers full-time at the VA hospital and had just come from there. Then she got to the problem: homeless veterans are being arrested for being 'junk in public', 'public intoxication' or any number of offenses which might come about as the result of being homeless and having a recognized medical condition: alcoholism, a hereditary disease, as are all addictions.
Addiction is more greatly influenced, or brought on, more so due to a genetic disorder than environmental issues. All major Veterans Hospitals have an addiction treatment center, both inpatient and out patient, on-site with capable treatment teams. It is deplorable that men and women who volunteered to stand in harm's way, on our behalf, at a time when the nation had a need. We have a responsibility to respond to their needs.
The Government of Canada has, for the past twenty years, place people with an addiction into a treatment program versus arrest and jail. Their recidivism rate is drastically below that of the United States. Upon successful completion of treatment the individual becomes a productive member of society. There are other advantages such as law enforcement being freed up to focus on serious crimes and criminals. Court case loads are reduced.
More importantly a man, or woman, who for reasons beyond their control is restored to the dignity they deserve as a result of their service to this nation. We call on the various law enforcement agencies to develop a relationship with the Veterans hospital to work hand in hand with the judicial system so that individuals might be given, at the very least, a choice of treatment or jail. To treat an individual as a criminal as a result of behavior brought about by a disease is horrible enough. That the person so treated is also a veteran is beyond deplorable, it is anathema.