Angered over two recent slayings, veterans gathered to demand more help in getting homeless vets off Miami’s streets.
January 2, 2008 – Dozens of veterans gathered at Government Center in downtown Miami on Wednesday afternoon to speak out against two brutal killings of homeless veterans since mid-November in Miami.
Todd Hill’s head was bashed in with an iron pole at 3 a.m. Friday as he slept on a bench overlooking the Miami River. The 41-year-old Gulf War veteran died at the hospital hours later.
Ernest Holman’s body was found beaten to death behind a Liberty City bus bench on Nov. 17. The 67-year-old frequented the local Veterans Affairs hospital, according to Robert Pickett, Holman’s former boss at the Brownsville junkyard where he once worked.
Charles Buford, president of VetsUnited.org, spoke in front of several veterans and passersby Wednesday at noon, demanding more assistance in taking homeless veterans off the streets.
But the chairman of Miami-Dade County’s Homeless Trust, Ron Book, met with Buford at the rally to make his point clear: The help is there. Homeless veterans aren’t taking it.
”I have available beds in my facilities,” Book said. “There are other issues here.”
What keeps homeless veterans from taking part in the several programs available through the Miami VA healthcare system or other local nonprofit agencies meant to help them is unwillingness to give up drug addictions and take medication for behavioral issues, Book said.
”Every person here had an opportunity to get off the streets,” he said, pointing at the crowd.
Hill, the discharged Marine who was killed before dawn Friday, may be one example, according to a friend and former fellow employee, John Lineweaver.
Just three years ago, Hill had his life together, Lineweaver said. Hill had an apartment and was a responsible and reliable security guard at a downtown skyscraper. He once earned the Security Guard of the Month award.
But the clean-cut man Lineweaver remembered looked very different from the bearded man he saw on the news Friday.
”He looked weathered, aged,” said Lineweaver, who was once his manager.
The change occurred about two years ago, when Hill fell into a deep depression likely caused by his traumatic memories of his experience in the Gulf War, Lineweaver said. Hill became an alcoholic and soon lost his job and apartment.
”He went homeless because, at the time, he was too proud to ask for help,” Lineweaver said.
Hill joined what the Miami VA estimates is a group of 250 homeless veterans in Miami-Dade County.
Hill’s bloody body was found Friday. Miami police arrested 29-year-old Sedrek A. Singleton later that day, charging him with first-degree murder.
According to police, Singleton confessed to the crime. He is being held in jail without bail.
At the rally, two veterans folded a U.S. flag in ceremonial fashion as dozens nearby saluted. Buford led the men in prayer, remembering Hill and Holman.
”They did not die in vain,” he said. “If they did die in vain, we would not be here.”
State Rep. James Bush III, who was approached by Buford and other veterans, said he has contacted the Miami VA and will help organize Hill’s burial.
According to the county’s medical examiner’s office, Holman’s body has not yet been claimed.
Reporter’s E-mail: jpagliery@MiamiHerald.com