Students at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School have started a new kind of public service. More than 50 young men from the all-boys school volunteer as pallbearers at funerals for homeless veterans, according to the Associated Press.
Homeless veterans often have lost contact with family members who cannot be located once they have died. So, if the Dignity Memorial Network’s Homeless Veterans Program cannot contact the family of a homeless veteran 90 days after their death, then the program will provide them with a casket, says Good Housekeeping.
But, because the veterans don’t have family present, there usually wouldn’t be a formal ceremony where pallbearers carry the veterans to their graves.
Now, students from the high school will help give the veterans a proper burial by volunteering as pallbearers. Funeral home director John Desmond told TODAY this service will only help the veterans program better provide veterans with the kind of funeral service that they deserve.
“The students’ service is quite simply valuable to our firm because that is what we do — we serve our community by caring for and honoring the dead, regardless of financial circumstances,” Desmond told TODAY.
The students’ effort is named Joseph of Arimathea after the biblical figure who cared for Jesus’ body after his crucifixion, is “meant to help dignify and respect the human being,” Senior Joshua Gonzales, one of the group’s leaders, told CNN.
Originally, the group had planned to carry the casket of any homeless individual, but, after working with Desmond’s funeral home, the students decided that they would focus on homeless veterans specifically.
Why veterans? Because veteran homelessness isn’t a small issue. There were an estimated 49, 933 homeless veterans in the U.S. in 2014, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which means about 8.6 percent of the country’s homeless population are veterans.
Many veterans become homeless because their service puts them at a higher risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can lead to other disorders, substance abuse, difficulty maintaining jobs, and then, as a result, a lower socioeconomic status, according to the NAEH.
Media and government representatives across the country have been asking Congress to do more to provide soldiers returning from overseas tours and veterans better access to mental health care, and the large homeless veteran population has been one of their strongest talking points.
The three men whom the students carried to their graves recently had served in the Army, the Air Force and the Marines, according to the AP. For Tom Lennon, a 17-year-old senior at the school, carrying the men was his way of giving back to them and acknowledging the pressing issue that is veteran homelessness across the U.S.
“This was an opportunity to give something to somebody who finished their life on the fringe of society,” Lennon told TODAY. “These veterans were men I have never met, but they helped make the country I live in safer and stronger. No matter who they were or what they did on earth, every person deserves a proper burial.”
As Veterans Day approaches, maybe you too can think of ways to help support and show respect for those that served our country.