A homeless veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who was ticketed for sleeping in his van hopes that, at the very least, his ordeal will set a new "precedent."
Aaron Coyler subsists on $849 per month in Social Security disability insurance, not nearly enough to support his living in an apartment in the Bay Area where he hopes to remain in order to be close to his 2-year-old son. So, for nearly a month, Coyler had been sleeping in his vehicle in a park, but was cited on Thursday by Alameda police for illegally camping, according to a video he posted to YouTube.
The homeless vet videotaped his interaction with the two officers, during which time Coyler explained that he has disabilities, little money and that there were no signs in sight indicating that he was doing anything wrong.
One of the officers responded by telling him to get a hotel room and when he learned that Coyler had served in the Marines, he revealed that he's also a veteran, before saying, "Semper Fi," referring to the Corps’ motto, "Semper Fidelis," which means "always faithful."
"Apparently not," Coyler says in the video. "I’m homeless. I have PTSD. I don’t have anywhere else to stay."
Coyler has been raising funds through a GoFundMe campaign, and hopes to eventually turn his van into a mobile outreach organization for the homeless.
While veteran homelessness is on the decline, and the VA has set 2015 as its target to end vet homelessness once and for all, experts say that cases like Coyler’s are likely to continue falling through the cracks.
On one night in January last year, 57,849 veterans were homeless –- a 24 percent drop from 2010, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
At the heart of the issue, experts say, is the dearth in affordable housing.
More than 12.8 percent of the nation’s supply of low-income housing has been permanently lost since 2001, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). And federally subsidized housing often has years-long wait lists, Maria Foscarinis, NLCHP executive director, told USA Today.
Compounding the issue is the fact that cities across the U.S. are continuing to tighten laws against the homeless, making it more difficult than ever for people on the streets without actually making a dent in putting an end to the problem.
Since 2009, the NLCHP has been tracking anti-homeless laws in 187 cities and has found that such measures are costly, on the rise and don’t help reduce homelessness rates, according to the organization’s recent study.
In Coyler’s case, the city of Alameda has an ordinance that prohibits camping in any park, street, public parking lot or public area, unless otherwise noted, according to ThinkProgress. But the ordinance does not specifically mention sleeping in vehicles.
The prohibition against camping in public is just one of a number of anti-homeless measures that are on the rise.
Since 2011, citywide bans on camping in public have increased by 60 percent, according to the NLCHP.
"I can serve my country," Coyler said, "but I can’t even sleep in a van."
If you'd like to help Aaron Coyler get back on his feet, and remain close to his son, find out how you can contribute to his online fundraising campaign here.