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Homeless Veterans in 10th Day of Hunger Strike

December 28, 1989|From The Washington Post

NEW YORK — Two homeless veterans living in the nation's first shelter exclusively for military veterans Wednesday entered the 10th day of a hunger strike to protest what they call "dictatorial" management at the Queens facility.

Earl Bettoe and Benjamin Colon, whose protest is supported by many of the 400 veterans at the Borden Avenue Veterans Residence, told reporters that they started their fast after shelter managers warned them that they would lose their beds if they left for Christmas visits with their families.

"Most of us are combat vets, and we are treated like children," said Colon, 36, leaning unsteadily on the cane he said he has carried since he was injured in Vietnam. "We want jobs, we want apartments, we want a place we can be with our children. This place doesn't help you get none of those."

The veterans phoned the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has taken up their cause and arranged for negotiations with the Salvation Army employees who run the shelter under contract with New York City.

Residents at the 2-year-old shelter, which has drawn inquiries from officials contemplating similar projects nationally, are demanding more medical care and assistance in finding jobs and permanent housing, and an easing of restrictions such as the 10 p.m. curfew.

Alfred J. Peck, a Vietnam veteran hired by the Salvation Army to run the $4.2-million facility, said 80% of the shelter's clients are found to be drug or alcohol abusers and that 20% suffer some form of mental illness. The shelter's strict rules, he said, are "a motivator" to help the men learn responsibility.

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