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‘Silver Star’ event gives voice to vets

Ann Arbor company helps in bid to end homelessness

Robert “Bur” Pulliam is one of the countless men and women who have served your country, defended your freedom, and — ultimately — endured a hard life on the streets as a homeless veteran.

Mr. Pulliam, now 55 and a resident of South Bend, Ind., considers himself one of the lucky ones, though.

After entering the Marine Corps and traveling the world as a field radio operator from 1979 to 1985, he had a comfortable life as an iron worker making $44 an hour or more in the Chicago area.

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Leslie

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Then, the global 2008 financial crisis blindsided him.

He couldn’t find work, blew through his savings, saw his family break up, and was homeless for 18 months. “One day I went out for a walk with my clothes in a pack, and it lasted 18 months,” he mused.

Mr. Pulliam is one of 1,062 veterans and counting who’ve received help from Veterans Matter, the group that Toledo homeless advocate Ken Leslie created a few years ago to bridge financial gaps for poverty-stricken veterans.

“You can tell he’s got his heart and soul in this,” Mr. Pulliam said.

The group’s mission is to cut through red tape and make payments necessary to get homeless veterans set up in modest apartments immediately while they wait for their Veterans Affairs benefits to kick in, or they get their finances back in order some other way.

In Mr. Pulliam’s case, he eventually found work again as an iron worker once the economy improved.

He regained enough of his financial footing to move out of the government-assisted apartment that was provided for him and get re-established elsewhere. Within two weeks, another homeless vet moved in, he said.

Mr. Pulliam now wants to help other veterans. He and Mr. Leslie joined Chad Audi, Detroit Rescue Mission chief executive officer, as featured speakers at the first-ever “Silver Star Event” hosted by the Jordan Reses Supply Co. in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

“If you want to become invisible, go live out on the street,” Mr. Pulliam said, explaining how he learned to scrounge around for meals with other homeless people by waiting to see what was thrown out in the trash at fast-food restaurants.

He said he remains eternally grateful to Veterans Matter for its benevolence, adding that it “got my confidence back to where I felt like a human being again.”

Saturday’s event recognized in part the contributions of Jordan Reses employees, whose generosity totals $200,000 over the last two years.

As a medical equipment distributor for numerous state and federal agencies whose clients include the Veterans administration and the U.S. Department of Defense, Jordan Reses is well-aware of the issue of homeless veterans, Glenn Monroe, the firm’s vice president of clinical sales, said.

Employees want to help Veterans Matter move closer to its goal of raising another $1.2 million to house an additional 2,000 veterans this year. 

The group has been a major sponsor of past Honor Flights that took World War II veterans to see the memorial that was erected in Washington in their honor.

“It’s troubling there are still so many veterans who are homeless,” Mr. Monroe said.

Mr. Pulliam’s story and the support from the firm in Ann Arbor continue to push Veterans Matter beyond its origins in Toledo, Mr. Leslie said.

Veterans Matter now has a presence in 11 states.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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