Homeless veterans honored at new Loaves & Fishes park

The two years since Joshua Bowman left the U.S. Army have been tough, as problems with his mother and father left him living in a car. When the car broke down, he was forced to live in a tent on the American River Parkway.

Despite that rough road, the 22-year-old Bowman said, “I’m still proud of my service” to the military.

Bowman was one of about 50 veterans honored at Loaves & Fishes on Veterans Day. Sister Libby Fernandez said 13 percent of the homeless people served by her social service agency are veterans, and it’s important that they not be forgotten.

More than 200 people, including Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, gathered at the agency’s new Friendship Park to honor the veterans. The ceremony was the first event at the park, which replaces the Friendship Park that has long served as the focal point at Loaves & Fishes, a collection of homeless services near the River District. The new park has a circular fountain with names etched into marble in memory of homeless people who have died on the streets.

The ceremony was one of several Veterans Day events held in the capital region, including a parade on Capitol Mall.

The veterans at Loaves & Fishes were honored by receiving gold pins with U.S. flags. Many of the veterans struggled to hold back tears as Steinberg and others fastened the pins on their shirts and jackets.

Steinberg championed the cause of the homeless and the mentally ill when he served in the state Legislature, and before then on the City Council. He said he wants fewer veterans to be homeless by next year’s Veterans Day.

“Our veterans include those who have fallen on the hardest of hard times,” Steinberg said. “We have to live up to the commitment that you gave your country.”

Bowman said homeless veterans such as himself need assistance. He would like to see “one-on-one counseling” offered. “I’m 22 and I don’t know what I should be doing,” he said.

Austin Edge has been committed to helping homeless veterans since he left the U.S. Navy two years ago. He and his wife volunteer at Loaves & Fishes and other places five days a week, in addition to attending school.

He said he is committed to the effort for religious reasons. “The greatest harm we can do is to do nothing,” he said.

Commitment in the face of adversity might describe a participant of the sixth annual Veterans Day Parade. Nicole Clavo, whose son Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo, a Grant Union High School student and football player, was fatally shot last year, served as the parade’s grand marshal.

Clavo has also been involved in anti-violence efforts since her son’s death. She served in the military, as did family members, and she credits the experience with shaping her character.