Comedian takes on a serious problem: Veteran homelessness
More than 6,000 veterans are homeless in New Jersey, and 67,000 suffer that plight throughout the United States, according to a report released in December by the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development.
“How can this be?” asks Robin Fox, a Bridgewater comedian who will perform in a benefit hosted by the New Jersey Elks Association.
The fundraiser, at 7 p.m. March 10 at the Paramus Elks Lodge, 200 N. St., Route 17, Paramus, will benefit homeless veterans throughout the state.
Fox, who is known for her “middle-age, suburban housewife” comedy, finds humor in almost anything but sees only the tragedy in the high incidence of veteran homelessness.
“It makes no sense that these men and women who have given their energy and their bodies to protect the freedom of American citizens are left to fall through the cracks,” Fox said.
“My father served in World War II, and I have the greatest respect for anyone who has served our country.
“We should be giving them everything we can, we should make every resource available to them when they return from the nightmare of war,” Fox said.
“It’s a disgrace for our country,” said Jim Hall, state chairman of veterans services for the New Jersey Elks Association. “Unlike previous wars, those who have served in our recent war have been doing multiple tours.
“Many of them are young guys with wives and children, and their wives get tired of it. So the young soldier comes home and there is nothing there for him,” Hall said.
“They return and find their house is up for sale, and there is no where to turn,” he said.
For others, making the adjustment to civilian life while dealing with the physical and psychological wounds of war makes it difficult to access the help they need, according to Hall.
Hall said government resources are available, but they are more likely to take the form of grants to organizations that assist veterans, rather than direct services provided by the government.
Operation Chillout, established more than a decade ago by Ray Chimileski, a deacon at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Long Valley, is one of the organizations that receives support from the New Jersey Elks Veterans Services Program.
Operation Chillout provides homeless veterans in 12 New Jersey counties with backpacks filled with necessities during the winter months and bottled water and baseball caps during the summer.
Hall has been a member of the Elks for 32 years and in June will be sworn in as the new state president.
“The national Elks organization established the first field hospitals in France for American troops on the front lines and they built the first Veterans Hospital in Boston,” Hall said.
While the Elks is committed to wide-ranging community service projects, Hall said his mission is to do even more when he becomes president.
“Each president establishes a motto. Mine will be: We can, we must, we will,” Hall said.
The evening of comedy March 10 is expected to raise $10,000 to help homeless veterans and other veteran programs, said event chairwoman Kelly Mazzocchi of Dunellen, a five-year member of the Elks lodge in Stirling.
Mazzocchi said the $30 admission fee includes entertainment by Fox and two other comedians, John McClellan and Adam Kerr, and light refreshments, hors d’ouvres and desserts.
There also will be a cash bar, a 50/50 raffle and a raffle of items through a tricky tray.
She said that in addition to the comedy benefit, the Elks Association helps veterans in other ways, such as hosting job fairs, health fairs, picnics and barbecues.
The East Central District includes Stirling, Summit, Rahway, Cranford, Mountainside, Springfield/Hillside, Linden, Elizabeth and Union.
Mazzocchi said she learned early on from her parents and grandparents the importance of giving back to the community, and she gets great satisfaction from the charitable works she participates in as a member of the Elks.
“I was really surprised to find out how many homeless veterans we have in New Jersey,” Mazzocchi said.
According to a report issued by the 100,000 Homes Campaign in November, the outlook for homeless veterans is bleak.
“As a group, veterans were 11 percentage points more likely to suffer from at least one condition linked to increased risk of death among the homeless population, which means the men and women who risked their lives defending America may be far more likely to die on its streets.”