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Home From Iraq, and Homeless

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    A war veteran wearing a backpack, pushing a stroller and carrying a baby stayed in another strange hotel room last night, mostly because the city of her birth
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2004
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      A war veteran wearing a backpack, pushing a stroller and carrying a
      baby stayed in another strange hotel room last night, mostly because
      the city of her birth does not know what to do with her. Welcome home.

      http://www.duckdaotsu.org/cominghome_homeless.html

      Home From Iraq, and Without a Home

      By DAN BARRY
      April 24, 2004

      THIS is how Nicole Goodwin travels these days: with her 1-year-old
      daughter pressed to her chest in a Snugli, a heavy backpack strapped
      across her shoulders, and a baby stroller crammed with as many bags
      of clothes and diapers as it can hold. When you are a homeless young
      mother, these are the things you carry.

      And tucked away somewhere are the documents attesting to Ms.
      Goodwin's recent honorable discharge from the United States Army, as
      well as Baghdad memories that are still fresh.

      Two months ago, she returned to Bronx circumstances that were no less
      difficult than when she had left them three years earlier; no yellow
      ribbons greeted her. Now, every day, she soldiers on to find a
      residence where the rent is not covered by in-kind payments of late-
      night bus rides to shelters and early-morning rousting. All the
      while, she keeps in mind the acronym she learned in the Army:
      Leadership. L is for loyalty; D for duty; R for respect; S for
      selfless service; H for honor; P for personal courage. "And I is my
      favorite," she says. "It's integrity."

      On Thursday morning, Ms. Goodwin wheeled her heavy-duty stroller into
      the Lower Manhattan office of the Coalition for the Homeless, a
      nonprofit organization that is trying to help her. For the last
      couple of nights it has put her and her nuzzling daughter, Shylah, up
      in a hotel.

      "She needed a breather," said Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, its executive
      director.

      Ms. Goodwin, 23, has perfect posture and a steady gaze. She graduated
      early from Morris High School in the Bronx, the alma mater of another
      soldier, Colin L. Powell ("They made sure we knew that," she says),
      then spent a couple of years attending college classes sporadically
      and quarreling with her mother.


      One day in January 2001, she entered an Army recruiting station and
      signed up, giving little thought to the chance of war. "I needed to
      leave," she said. Life moved pretty quickly after that: basic
      training at Fort Jackson, S.C.; classes in supply support at Fort
      Lee, Va.; and then a flight to Germany, where she was attached to
      Company B of the 501st Forward Support Battalion at a post in
      Friedberg.
      A relationship with another soldier ended after she became pregnant,
      and in early 2003 she flew to the California home of some friends
      from the military - the Bronx was not an option, she says - to give
      birth in March of that year. A few weeks later, she did the hardest
      thing she has ever had to do: she left Shylah with her California
      friends and returned to Germany to complete her service.

      Four months after giving birth, Ms. Goodwin was sent to Iraq.
      She served food rations at Baghdad International Airport for

      Nicole Goodwin, a homeless Army veteran who served in Iraq, & her 1-
      year-old daughter, Shylah.
      Ting-Li Wang/The New York Times several weeks, then spent a few
      more weeks at the sports arena known as the Olympic Stadium, helping
      to supply soldiers with things like toilet paper and small armaments.

      These are among her memories: "the mortar rounds, the gunfights, the
      car bombings."

      After nearly four months in Iraq, Ms. Goodwin returned to Germany to
      finish the tail end of her three-year hitch. "I wanted to get back to
      my daughter," she said, "but I didn't want to leave Iraq."

      Her Army career now over, Ms. Goodwin returned to California to pick
      up Shylah, who looked "amazingly different," and headed to the Bronx,
      where her mother, two sisters and a 4-year-old nephew were now living
      in the two-bedroom apartment in the Patterson housing project. "We
      were good for a week," she said of her relationship with her
      mother. "But after that. . . ."

      Ms. Goodwin and her daughter moved in with a good friend's mother,
      and she began planning her next step in life, one that would provide
      more than the $250 a week she was receiving in unemployment benefits.
      But a heated argument abruptly ended the living arrangement, and late
      on April 6 - a little more than two months after being honorably
      discharged as a private, second class - a war veteran and her small
      child hit the darkened streets.

      She pushed her stroller a few blocks to the Emergency Assistance
      Unit, the city's flawed point of entry for homeless families. She
      explained her situation to a staff member who, she says, yelled at
      her for not having the proper paperwork handy. "I killed her with
      kindness," she said. "I've been yelled at before by the best."

      "I got that attitude from Iraq," Ms. Goodwin added. "If this isn't
      life and death, it's not that serious."

      She filled out an application for transitional housing, and after a
      while a bus arrived to take the Goodwins and other families to a one-
      night shelter on Powers Avenue. She thinks it was about 4 a.m.; she
      knows that Shylah's eyes were wide open.

      For the next several days, the Goodwins rode the city bus of
      homelessness - two nights more at the Powers Avenue shelter, and then
      several nights at the Skyway Hotel in southeastern Queens - while the
      city determined whether she was eligible for housing. Her life became
      a blur of riding late-night buses, maneuvering the subway system,
      filling out forms and comforting Shylah.

      On April 17, the Department of Homeless Services denied housing to
      the Iraqi war veteran on the grounds that she could live with her
      mother. Beyond the overcrowding that such a return would create (four
      women and two small children in a two-bedroom apartment), she says
      that the decision ignored the untenable situation between mother and
      daughter.

      Moving back was not an option, she said. Not an option.


      MS. GOODWIN immediately reapplied, thus entering a limbo world known
      as fast track, in which families who have already been denied housing
      return within 48 hours to the Emergency Assistance Unit to apply
      again, and to wait, again, for that late-night bus to somewhere.

      City officials say that under the fast-track process, the
      applications of the recently rejected are expedited to see whether
      any new information might make them eligible. But according to Ms.
      Goodwin, fast track seems designed to generate so much frustration
      that the applicant gives up and goes away.

      Two days into her fast-track odyssey, Ms. Goodwin got a four-hour
      pass from the Emergency Assistance Unit - keeping her application
      active - and made her way to the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical
      Center. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not have housing for
      homeless veterans, but it does have a comprehensive plan for
      homelessness that includes assistance with employment and counseling.

      Jim Connell, a spokesman for the Bronx center, said staff members
      tried to find housing for the Goodwins. "They started calling
      alternative shelters, but a lot of them don't take women," he
      said. "One was full, another wouldn't take a child." He added: "They
      were not particularly successful."

      Before the staff at the medical center could help Ms. Goodwin
      further, Mr. Connell said, she had to leave "because her pass was
      running out." But someone in Veterans Affairs managed to call her
      cellphone and refer her to the Coalition for the Homeless for legal
      help.

      By last evening, officials in Veterans Affairs were vowing to make
      sure that Nicole Goodwin receives the assistance she needs, and Jim
      Anderson, a spokesman for Homeless Services, was delivering the
      official city explanation.

      "It is a disgrace that soldiers experience instability as they return
      home and, sadly, hundreds of homeless vets today call municipal
      shelters their home," Mr. Anderson said. "That having been said, the
      facts support that this particular family has an alternative to
      shelter."

      A war veteran wearing a backpack, pushing a stroller and carrying a
      baby stayed in another strange hotel room last night, mostly because
      the city of her birth does not know what to do with her. Welcome
      home.


      Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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