There but for the grace of God, go I. In these times of intractable economic travail, there are fellow Americans with talents, and resumes that are stunning, who have found themselves without resources. Engineers, Lawyers et al. I can currently name three individuals, veterans, who were all in the six figure income bracket, and are now just barely hanging on. Once you hit that economic slide it can be irreversibly slippery, were it not for folks that dedicate their lives to helping the homeless.
I recall a time when I sat on the Board of the Salvation Army along with one very well healed board member from England, where the Salvation Army began. He explained to me how the origins and history of the SA touched his heartstrings. They knew that the mainline churches of the day were primarily ministering to “shiny Christians,” while leaving the poor to fend for themselves. Not so in line with the corporate works of mercy that Jesus spoke of, so they formed their own earthly mission to the poor. They are now rated the number one charity in the nation, having led the way to such fine programs like Piquette Square in Detroit and restoring dignity to ones life.
My grandfather Frederick Reginald Brewer was one the early missionaries who came over from England with William Booth. He was one of the early editors of the War Cry, the Salvation Army magazine.
Let us not ever forget the saving power of Grace and the potency of the love of our brothers and sisters. There is really nothing else that matters.
Tucson has one of the nation’s most successful programs for homeless veterans, Esperanza and Escalante. I encourage you to include them in your holiday giving.
Homeless: Ex-NBA Player & Vet’s Comeback
Coniel Norman, who is a former NBA player and a military veteran, was homeless right before he moved into Piquette Square, a new, $23-million 150-unit apartment project in Detroit built to house and care for homeless veterans.
Norman was a star on the University of Arizona basketball team in 1972 and was later drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia ’76ers, where he played two seasons before heading to the Continental Basketball Association and then the San Diego Clippers. After being released by the Clippers in 1979, he enlisted in the military.
“My brother served in the Army and was in Vietnam,” Norman says. “I was looking for a career after basketball and I wanted to see what military life was like.”
However, nearly 30 years after being discharged he was homeless in Los Angeles. The facilities at Piquette Square were designed for veterans like him.
“We have a job training program called Detroit Green Works Solutions,” says Steve Palackdharry, the communications manager at Southwest Solutions, which runs Piquette Square. “He went through that [12-week program] and was able to get a job after that doing landscaping. He is well on his way to building his life.
“Not only does it provide high quality housing,” Palackdharry said of the program, “but it helps [veterans] with many unique needs they have, including workforce development,Norman’s military career included being stationed in Germany, where he served four years. Afterward, he played professional basketball in Europe for seven seasons, but his basketball career came to an abrupt halt when he was injured in a serious car accident on the Autobahn.
He then moved to Los Angeles and worked as a counselor in a mental health agency for more than 15 years. However, in 2008, substance abuse caused him to be nearly homeless for a year.
After successfully completing a drug rehabilitation program he made contact with his sister Renee in Detroit, with whom he had not spoken in 26 years.
“I had to make sure it was really him when we spoke on the phone,” Renee says. “So I asked him about his memories of my daughter Cassie. From what he said and the way he said it, I knew it was Coniel.”
Norman moved in with Renee in Detroit for a few months and then moved into Piquette Square soon after the project opened in early June.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got into Piquette Square,” Norman told an audience of 500 people at the July 15 grand opening of Piquette Square for Veterans. “Sometimes I still have a hard time believing that I’m here. But I thank God for it. The apartments are beautiful.”
At that ceremony was Mayor David Bing, who played in the NBA against Norman almost 40 years ago. “All of us who live here are grateful for the generosity of all the people who made this building possible and who donated things to make us feel at home,” Norman added. “It is my honor to thank you all from all the veterans at Piquette.”
Anyone interested in providing assistance to Norman can e-mail his niece at firstname.lastname@example.org.