The word hero is thrown around a lot these days, but in Judge Harry Pregerson’s case, it hardly does him justice.
We often think of a hero as a “war hero”, and the Judge was certainly that, having been severely wounded during the Battle of Okinawa as a Marine lieutenant in World War II. We think of a person noted for courageous acts and nobility of character. He was that too, always following his conscience and sense of fairness to stand up for what was right and just. But when I think of Judge Pregerson, I think of the original meaning of the word, which comes from the Greek and means “protector” or “defender”.
Judge Harry Pregerson was passionate about helping homeless veterans and other homeless people who needed a voice. He used his considerable persuasive powers and the leverage he held as a Federal Judge to organize people and institutions to create programs that provided homeless people the housing and help that they needed to regain their pride and independence. The agency I now lead, U.S.VETS, was born out of that passion in 1993.
I was with him a couple of years ago when he was talking about a group of veterans he had met who were homeless, couldn’t get the help they needed at the VA, and were left languishing on the streets. Tears came to his eyes as he described their desperation and helplessness. He was 92 years old and the fires of passion still burned in him.
It was not uncommon for the Judge to call to tell me that he saw a homeless vet on the street, and would I please go to such and such a corner to see if I could get him to come into one of our programs. To the Judge, compassion was a verb, an emotion that demanded action, and to the very end, he exercised that compassion.
U.S.VETS holds a Gala event every year, and in honor of all the Judge has done for us, we have named our highest honor “The Judge Harry Pregerson Public Service Award”. This year, for the first time, the Judge was not well enough to come present the award himself. He sent a letter instead, exhorting the audience to “remember the faces you’ve seen and the powerful stories you’ve heard tonight. And please consider how you can make a personal impact on a veteran’s life.”
At U.S.VETS we will do just that. Today, as they do every day, our outreach workers will go out into the streets, to find homeless veterans and start them on the road to recovery and reintegration. This is just as the Judge would want it. Our greatest tribute to Judge Pregerson is to continue the work he started, to do everything in our power to reach every veteran we can, and return them to a life of dignity and respect. We will continue to serve in his honor, ensuring that no veteran is left behind.
President & CEO
U.S.VETS is honored to announce the Judge Harry Pregerson Veteran Stabilization Program, in tribute to our founder.
After-care case management is the next step in our continuing effort to make sure every veteran has the services he or she needs. At the present time, we are serving thousands of veterans every year who graduate successfully from our transitional housing programs and move out into the community. Most of them will successfully reintegrate back into their communities and live fulfilling lives. But there is a segment of these veterans who remain vulnerable. They are not stable enough in their new life to withstand the unexpected events life throws at them – loss of a job, a broken relationship, death of a loved one – these events can cause them to relapse into old habits, which can lead to them again relapsing into homelessness.
Our solution to this ongoing problem is to provide after-care case management through the Judge Harry Pregerson Veteran Stabilization Program, which will continue to provide care and guidance to help them through these life events. This intervention will prevent hundreds of veterans from falling back into homelessness. These case managers will help them find another job, or help them through difficulties on the job, they will provide guidance to help the veteran create a social network, reconnect with family, make sure they are continuing their mental health regimen or sobriety support.
This “light touch” intervention is currently a gap in services. There is no funding stream for this very effective intervention. It is a relatively inexpensive way to help hundreds of veterans who were once homeless regain the skills and confidence to move forward toward a life of dignity and purpose.
You can pay tribute to the memory and work of Judge Harry Pregerson by making a donation to support the Veteran Stabilization Program, which has been named in his honor.