On the 22nd of every month, members of the Jacksonville chapter of Veterans for Peace gather in Five Points to focus public attention on the suicide rate among veterans.
On Tuesday, the group stood on the corner of Post and Park streets holding signs and waving to drivers.
Chapter coordinator Willie Hager says there’s a reason the monthly event is called 22 Too Many.
“According to VA statistics, and we suspect it’s even higher, there’s 22-suicides a day occurring, which is totally outrageous,” he says.
In addition to raising public awareness about the problem, Hager’s group is also collecting donations of food, camping gear, clothing and toiletries to give to veterans who live on the street.
He says the goal is to give homeless vets “one more day of hope,” so they’ll think, “A veteran helped me out and gave me this sleeping bag. I feel a bond.”
Hager says that bond is key to convincing homeless vets to apply to the VA for benefits. The donated items will be distributed to struggling veterans at the end of the year, he says.
Meanwhile, the Homeless Coalition of Northeast Florida is trying to reduce veteran homelessness to “functional zero” by the end of the year. That means, the veteran homeless rate is so low that any vet who needs a roof over his or her head can get one within 30 days.