Soldiers Work to Combat Homelessness in D.C.
With a 6.2% increase from last year in the homeless population in Washington, D.C., Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Brown and his Soldiers hope to make a difference in this growing number.
Brown said his desire to aid in this cause started two years ago.
"I started volunteering at a homeless shelter when I was stationed in Fort Jackson, S. C., in 2010 because I felt like it would be a good thing to do," said Brown, infantryman, Hotel Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).
Brown arrived to The Old Guard in March of 2010 with the hopes that he could pass along the spirit of volunteerism to as many Soldiers as possible.
"I wanted Soldiers to see what they could do outside of going to work every day and how they could impact and help other people," said Brown. "I wanted them to know that that was important."
Brown's chance to inspire more Soldiers came later that year when he assumed a role as a supervisor of more than 30 Soldiers.
"When I took the platoon over in March, my sphere of influence increased," said Brown.
Wanting to monopolize on this opportunity, Brown began searching for places for his platoon to volunteer. He also informed them of his plan.
"I was excited when Sgt. 1st Class Brown approached us with the idea because I had never done much volunteer work before and I was eager to give it a try," said Spc. Stephen Condon, infantryman, Hotel Company.
However, not all of the Soldiers shared in the initial excitement.
Sgt. Timothy Schider, infantryman, Hotel Company, admitted prior to volunteering, he was leery of the idea because of his negative assumptions of homeless people. He would later change his mind after meeting them face to face.
Members of Brown's platoon began volunteering at Miriam's Kitchen, an organization committed to ending chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C. The shelter provides meals and social services to those in need. Brown said his Soldiers support the kitchen staff and help serve the people who come there.
"We show up every third Monday of the month and every third Thursday of the month," said Brown. "Mondays the Soldiers are cooking dinner and preparing dinner for the homeless people and on Thursdays the Soldiers are cutting carrots and preparing the dinner shift to cook the food."
The action of giving to people less fortunate touched Brown's Soldiers, even reshaping Schider's original thoughts after he saw the desperation of those in need.
"There was this woman who was on crutches and she was walking with her plate and she dropped it," said Schider. "Even though it hit the floor, she still picked it up and ate it."
Schider added the woman had the opportunity to go back and get more food but was too hungry to do so.
"She was so desperate to eat her food because she had not eaten in a while," said Schider. "That kind of hit home."
Sgt. Nathan Keating was also deeply impacted.
"It is a definitely an eye-opener. They are really just regular people who had bad circumstances or things that were out of their control happen to them," said Keating, infantryman, Hotel Company. "They really deserve our help."
Keating said he was amazed at the amount of gratitude the homeless people showed them.
"They are usually really nice to us," said Keating. "Not only do they thank us for volunteering but they also thank us for our service as Soldiers."
Keating also said their appreciation has humbled him.
"So many of the homeless people there actually help me clean or they'll offer to take cups and trays to the kitchen," said Keating. "It made me realize they are not there to take advantage of free food. Although they need the food, they are still making sure that they do their part. They want to contribute something."
Although Brown and his Soldiers initially set out in an effort to change the lives of the more than 6,000 homeless people living in Washington, D.C., the real change has happened within themselves.
"It's given me a real sense of accomplishment. It makes me feel like I am doing something to help other people instead of just looking out for myself and guys on my team," said Schider.
"It's rewarding to go out there and help someone else out who's less fortunate then I am," said Condon.
"It has made me grateful for what I have," said Keating. "I encourage people to do it because it could easily be any one of us."