Interview, Audio and Photos by Tim Lenard
Manny Perez has a wry smile as he enjoys a donated community holiday meal recently in Reno. He says he is doing better after a long stretch which involved the army, war, drinking, gambling and homelessness.
He went to different aid organizations, churches and the shelter in downtown Reno. Perez still relies on help, but his life, he says, is much improved.
“I got on my feet now, I have another car. Not new, but I got a car.”
Perez is fuzzy about when he joined the Army, giving different dates of 1966, 67 and 68.
“I volunteered for the draft because I was getting in trouble with the police. I’ve been an alcoholic for many years so I said ‘oh well at least, I will have a good life, I hope’. In a way, it was good and I got the VA benefits now. I don’t have to worry about Obamacare because I have the VA insurance. So that’s good.”
Parts of his Army experience he talks about, while other parts he brushes off.
“I was in the 5th Infantry Division. First we went through Mannheim, Germany for advanced training. We all said ‘we are gonna go to Vietnam anyway, what the hell’. What’s so funny over there in Germany we have to have these make believe wars. You know. ‘Oh this is fun I like it’, but in real life, forget it.”
Back in the US, Perez struggled for years with addictions and ended up living on the streets. Like many others living in difficult straits, he avoided the homeless shelter.
“There’s a lot of homeless vets that would rather sleep (outside) because they don’t like the rules. You know, they got strict rules. I didn’t like em either. I went through that under the bridge, under the tree, whatever. For about a year and five months. Even then I would still gamble and drink. But then, I said no. That’s it, I’m gonna die out here. So I made up my mind no more gambling, no more drinking and I’m still alive. And I got a car.”
He says veterans barely getting by many times avoid assistance.
“A lot of homeless rather sleep out in the streets. So they can panhandle and all that. Even though some of them get Social Security but still. They got the money to rent they won’t do it. They want to be free like a bird.”
For Perez, a Mello dinner is always a highlight, as it was again this December.
“They always tell us thank you for your service you know. It makes me feel good. I ate too much, for the past ten minutes, I’ve been trying to get up but I can’t. They asked me if I want seconds, but no thank you. Next year.”