Gold Star mom seeks to help homeless veterans in SWFL

A Gold Star mom in Collier County joined dozens of volunteers to bring awareness to the homeless veteran problem around Southwest Florida. The first Homeless Veteran count in Collier, spearheaded by Wounded Warriors of Collier over two days, located 44 homeless veterans and offered them backpacks of necessities and connected them to resources.

This is an issue that is close to her ever since receiving a phone call from a hospital that she lost her son, who had previously served in the armed forces.

“August 1 will be three years to the day in 2016 that my son, I got that terrible phone call from a local hospital that my son passed away. He was 82nd airborne combat Afghanistan,” Gold Star mom, Kim Hayes said.

Hayes volunteered for the county’s first homeless veteran count honoring the memory of her son Taylor, who ended up homeless after returning from combat and suffering challenges adjusting to civilian life.

“To be able to have any measure of impact on that never happening to another individual again or another family again makes my son’s loss sting just a little bit less,” Hayes said.

When Hayes directed her team of volunteers to stop at a bus station, she was thinking about her son Taylor and where he would be if he had help. She stopped and spoke with a veteran who did not want to open up about his struggles at first.

“He happened to say, well I’m a veteran but I don’t want to talk to anybody and we were like that’s cool, but I shared with him that my son was living kind of couch surfing, having challenges here,” Hayes said.

That led to a connection between the two, which led to the veteran opening up.

“He indicated that he had been an Army Ranger. Whenever I asked him the things that only a military person would know, I asked him what his MOS was, he said 11 Bravo, that’s ‘Infantry all the way! ‘That’s what my son was,” Hayes said.

Hayes stated that she met other veterans that were reluctant to respond at first, for different reasons.

“There was one person who said I wasn’t in combat or anything and I held up my hand and said it doesn’t matter, it’s our privilege to find any way that we can possibly help you get back on your feet,” Hayes said.

It was a day filled with emotion for both her and her daughter-in-law Kylie, who was also there to volunteer with the count.

“When we were leaving this station for the second time, we just hugged each other, we gave each other a high five, and Taylor would always say “That’s what I’m talking about!” And we just looked at each other and said “That’s what I’m talking about it!,” Hayes said.

Two local leaders, Collier Commissioner, Andy Solis, and Naples City Councilor, Michelle McLeod also volunteered for the county.

Besides using county resources to help these veterans with shelter, they plan to include the needs of the veterans in a comprehensive mental health plan, which they hope to adopt and finalize later.

Writer:Lincoln Saunders
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