Bikers ride to support homeless veterans in Westmoreland County

August 12, 2018
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Bikers wait to depart the Pleasant Unity VFW before the Homeless Veterans Benefit Motorcycle Ride on August 5, 2018.

About 30 riders came out for a motorcycle run to benefit homeless veterans hosted by the Pleasant Unity VFW Post 8643 on Sunday.

Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Veterans Administration Pittsburgh. They will be accepted on behalf of the Veterans Administration by Matthew Zamosky of Westmoreland County Office of Veterans Affairs.

Bikers rode from the Pleasant Unity VFW to the Ligonier and Donegal VFW Posts, as well as the Donegal American Legion.

“It gives our veterans an opportunity to come together and have a common ground, and put forth an effort for those who need our help,” Amber Nearanzio, co-organizer of the event, said of the ride.

One of her sons is currently serving with the Army, and another is an Army veteran. Her youngest is pursuing the Marine option with the Naval ROTC program.

“Our veterans should not be homeless at all,” said Nearanzio.

The post raised $810 ahead of Aug. 5 and will add more to that total as $15 registrations for the ride are tallied, Nearanzio said.

Rocky Naples, chaplain of the Pleasant Unity post, said that they’re already planning a ride for next year. He hopes that someday, these types of fundraisers will no longer be necessary.

The number of homeless veterans nationwide declined by 17 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

There were fewer than 40,000 veterans nationwide experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2016, according to the department. That’s down from nearly 50,000 homeless veterans experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2014.

The Westmoreland County Department of Veterans Affairs does not have an official count of homeless veterans in the county, said Matt Zamosky, county veterans affairs director.

The veterans affairs department serves as an information and referral source, providing veterans with contact information for aid and helping them understand what resources are available to them.

“We try to find the best place we can send them,” Zamosky said. “The most important thing may be to get a roof over their head.”

Jeff Bauer, of Latrobe, is an Army veteran who served from 1977 to 1983. He briefly experienced homelessness himself and said that veterans coming home from service could use more support when they return home.

That support needs to be ongoing, said Dee Cassidy of Mt. Pleasant, also a co-organizer for the event.

“Sometimes it takes a couple days, sometimes it takes a couple months,” Cassidy said of the effort it takes to connect veterans with the resources they need. She volunteers to work with veterans and their families who need assistance finding medical care or housing.

“I don’t think that our veterans should have to scrounge,” she said.

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